Israel concerned over Hizbullah legitimacy

Diplomatic officials: Foreign Ministry thinking of ways to prevent European officials from meeting Hizbullah ministers.

nasrallah 224.88 (photo credit: Channel 2)
nasrallah 224.88
(photo credit: Channel 2)
As Israel struggles to prevent Europe from talking to Hamas, the recent inclusion of Hizbullah in the new Lebanese government has created a new challenge: how to stop Europe from meeting Hizbullah ministers. Diplomatic officials said that in recent days, a number of meetings have been held in the Foreign Ministry with the aim of developing a strategy to prevent meetings between European and Hizbullah ministers. So far, no operative decisions have been made, one official said. The official said Israel's concern - and something Israel has been trying to prevent for years - was the legitimization of Hizbullah through high-profile political meetings. In the brief period in 2005-2006 when Hizbullah was represented in the Lebanese government, Israel waged a relatively successful campaign against meetings between Western officials and the Hizbullah ministers. This time, however, the chore is expected to be much more difficult, because so many more ministers affiliated with the group will be in the government. For example, one official said, if a British concern were interested in investing in transportation infrastructure in Lebanon, and Hizbullah held the transportation portfolio, it would be difficult for British ministers or high-ranking officials not to meet their Lebanese counterparts. Under the Qatar-brokered agreement that led to the end of the political stalemate in Lebanon, Hizbullah is expected to control 11 of the new government's 30 seats and to have veto power. While Hizbullah is on the United States' list of terror organizations, it has not been included on Europe's blacklist, and efforts by Israel to include it have not yielded results. Regarding European contacts with Hamas, diplomatic officials said that despite French President Nicolas Sarkozy's assurance earlier this week to Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni that Paris had not altered its policy against talks with Hamas, there was concern in Jerusalem that there were a number of influential voices in Britain, Holland, France and the US State Department arguing that the policy of isolating Hamas had failed and that another policy must be explored. One official said Israel needed to change its argument against talks with Hamas. Rather than simply saying Hamas was a terrorist organization, he said, Israel needed to stress that Hamas was not interested in contacts with Israel, continued to declare that its goal was to destroy Israel, and had decidedly not changed its policies despite many opportunities to do so. In addition, the official said, both Russia and Norway, which have justified their continued contacts with Hamas by saying that it would enable them to influence the organization to change its polices, have failed to do so, showing that contact with Hamas has no real effect on its policies.