Minister Sheetrit: Russia stabbed Israel in the back

Minister Meir Sheetrit accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of “stabbing Israel in the back” for saying he planned to invite Hamas leaders to visit, and said Moscow should not play any role in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. Russia “cannot fill any position regarding negotiations with the Palestinians” unless it changes its position on Hamas, Sheetrit told Israel Radio. Hamas official Ismail Haniyeh said Hamas leaders would visit Russia if they receive an official invitation. But Sheetrit said no such invitation should be forthcoming until Hamas renounces its charter, which calls for Israel’s destruction. “Having maintained our contacts with the organization Hamas, we intend to invite their leaders to Moscow in the near future to search for solutions,” Putin told a press conference in Madrid on Thursday. Putin’s announcement contradicts a statement issued two weeks ago by the Quartet, to which Russia belongs, which said a two-state solution requires all participants in the democratic process “to renounce violence and terror, accept Israel’s right to exist, and disarm.” Putin said Russia has never considered Hamas a terror organization. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, who met in New York on Thursday with the UN ambassadors of the five permanent Security Council members, urged them to stand fast on the four conditions that the council – again including Russia – had previously set for recognition of Hamas: recognition of Israel, disarmament, abandoning terror and accepting the road map peace plan. “Every sign of weakness and of recognition will be interpreted by Hamas as legitimizing terror,” she said. “It’s important that the international community insist on the fulfillment of these conditions.” Livni’s visit to New York was shorter than planned due to an unscheduled meeting with U.S. President George Bush in Washington on Thursday morning. During the half-hour meeting, Bush promised that the U.S. would not back down from the demands the Quartet made of Hamas. Bush told Livni that no further U.S.-Palestinian dialogue would be possible unless the new Palestinian government recognizes Israel. U.S. steers clear of direct criticism The United States on Thursday reminded Russia that it is on the record condemning the violent tenets of Hamas, but steered clear of criticizing Putin. Putin’s invitation Thursday underscored that his country, unlike most of the West, does not see the group responsible for dozens of suicide bombings as terrorist. The Quartet statement that Russia signed also hinges at least some future international aid to the Palestinians on changes in Hamas’ behavior. “As a member of the Quartet, we would certainly expect that Russia would deliver that same message,” State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said. “They did so as a member of the Quartet in public to Hamas, and if there are any future meetings between Russian officials and Hamas officials, we would expect that they would deliver that same clear, strong message.” The U.S. ambassador in Russia, William J. Burns, has requested clarification of the message Putin intends to give to the Hamas officials, McCormack said. “Certainly, we are not going to have any contact with a terrorist organization. But as for each state, they are going to have to make that sovereign decision,” McCormack said in Washington. He rejected the notion that Putin’s remarks undermine the unity or power of the Quartet. Also Thursday, a top State Department official said a Hamas suspension of attacks on Israel will not be enough. The group already is observing a cease-fire. “It doesn’t seem to me you can push the pause button on terror,” David Welch, the assistant secretary of state for the Near East, said at a news conference. If Hamas should accept Israel’s right to exist, “perhaps there will be a different situation,” Welch said. Welch said the Quartet’s statement leaves no wiggle room short of a complete renunciation of terror, such as a Hamas offer of a truce to Israel. “The burden here is on Hamas to take a decision,” Welch said. “It is not on the United States, it is not on the Europeans, it is not on Israel.” Welch also said that the U.S. would continue its dialogue with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas. Annan: Give Hamas a chance United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan urged the international community on Thursday to give Hamas more time to change its ways before writing it off as a partner for Middle East peace. Annan, speaking with reporters, counseled patience with the group so soon after its upset election victory. “We are at a very early stage of the game,” he said. “Hamas won the election but they have never been in government. They need time to organize themselves.” He said he hoped this would come during the three-month transitional period while Abbas was still in office. Noting talks between Hamas and regional powers Egypt and Saudi Arabia, he urged Hamas to heed the advice of the quartet and other interested governments and honor the Palestinian Authority’s past commitments, transform itself into a political party, and recognize the right of Israel to exist side-by-side in peace with an eventual Palestinian state. Annan said he believed the Hamas election win reflected the group’s record of social service and fighting corruption rather than a shift in voter sentiment toward Islamic militancy. “My sense is they were voting for a peaceful and stable and well-organized Palestine. So there is a lesson there and a message for rulers and politicians in the region and everywhere in the world: That people want good government and will vote for people that they believe would offer that,” he said.