Russia, Israel at odds over Hamas

Officials deny reports J'lem and Moscow on verge of "diplomatic row" over issue.

putin 298 ap (photo credit: AP)
putin 298 ap
(photo credit: AP)
Russian President Vladimir Putin's refusal to characterize Hamas a terrorist organization does not mean there is a diplomatic crisis between Jerusalem and Moscow, although Israel has made its displeasure clear to the Kremlin, Israeli diplomatic officials said Thursday. Putin, during a three-hour press conference Monday, revealed the first signs of cracks in an international coalition Israel is trying to build against Hamas, when he said: "Russia's position on the Middle East differs from the European and American one." Hamas should "refrain from extremist declarations, acknowledge Israel's right to exist and put its contacts with the international community in order," he said, galling Israel, which wants the international community to isolate Hamas. "The Egyptian position on Hamas is closer to ours than Putin's," an Israeli diplomatic official said, noting that Egypt had accepted Israel's conditions that Hamas must disavow terrorism, recognize Israel and accept all previous agreements with it. Israeli officials were particularly miffed that Putin's statements came the same day that the Quartet, of which Russia is a member (alongside the US, EU and UN), issued a statement that took a much stronger stand against Hamas, and threatened a reassessment of economic assistance to the PA. Israeli officials explained the discrepancy between Putin's statement and the Quartet's statement, which Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was a party to, by saying that Putin was simply not properly briefed about what was going on at the Quartet meeting in London when he made his comments in Moscow . Israeli officials denied reports in the Russian press that Jerusalem and Moscow were on the verge of a "diplomatic row" over the issue. According to these officials, Israel and Russia had long been at odds over how to view Hamas. with Moscow advising Israel even before the elections to negotiate with the organization. Russia, according to these officials, saw an opportunity through Hamas to step up its own role in the Middle East, because if it was willing to talk to Hamas - while everyone else was shunning the organization - it could become a central mediator between the Palestinians and Israel. Likewise, the officials said, the Kremlin was keen on using the Hamas victory in the Palestinian Legislative Council elections as proof of what it viewed as the bankruptcy of US President George W. Bush's policy of democratization in the Middle East, a policy the Kremlin had long opposed.