Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal said Friday during his meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Moscow that “Israel must withdraw to the 1967 borders and abide by the Palestinian refugees’ Right of Return if it wants peace.”
Lavrov told the Hamas delegation that Moscow expected it to abide by all previous Palestinian agreements with Israel, Russian news agencies said.
“We are counting on Hamas ... Making a contribution to the full and all-embracing fulfillment of all former agreements,” Interfax quoted Lavrov as saying before he went into talks with the leadership of the Islamist terrorist group.
Earlier Lavrov warned that the Palestinian terrorist group will have no future if it fails to transform itself into a political institution.
He said there was a “Need for Hamas, having been elected to a political body, to transform itself into a political party and to be sure that the military wing of Hamas becomes a legitimate part of the Palestinian security structures.”
Lavrov spoke to the international media before talks with a Hamas delegation that arrived in Moscow Friday, the group’s highest-profile foreign visit since winning Palestinian parliamentary elections in January Russia’s invitation to Hamas, extended by President Vladimir Putin, was the first crack in an international front against the group, considered a terrorist organization by Israel, the European Union and the United States.
Hamas has sent dozens of suicide bombers to Israel and does not accept the presence of a Jewish state in the Middle East.
‘Hamas needs to reassess its new role’
Russia aims to induce Hamas to back off its refusal to recognize Israel. But upon arrival in Moscow, Hamas’ exiled political leader Khaled Mashaal bluntly rejected any discussion of the issue.
“The issue of recognition (of Israel) is a decided issue,” Mashaal said. “We don’t intend to recognize Israel.”
Lavrov later urged patience, saying that “We don’t expect that Hamas will do all this and change itself overnight.” “It will be a process, hopefully not as long as the process in Great Britain regarding Northern Ireland,” He added.
He said that Hamas needs “to reassess its new role, for which maybe it wasn’t ready when the elections took place.”
Israel’s acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert insisted Friday that the international community must maintain a united front against Hamas and said that Russia has promised to limit its contacts with Hamas in the future.
“In recent days, I received messages from Russian President Putin, which talk about restrictions of their contacts with Hamas and support the principles we laid before the Palestinians and which have the support of the Quartet (of Mideast mediators),” Olmert said Friday.
In an apparent attempt to avoid damaging relations with Israel further, Putin decided against personally meeting the Palestinian delegation, which will only have a sightseeing tour of the Kremlin on Sunday. An Israeli official speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of Russia-Israeli relations said Israel also expects Moscow to clearly condemn Mashaal’s refusal on Friday to discuss recognizing Israel.
After arriving in Moscow, Mashaal accused Israel of blocking the Mideast peace process and said Israel’s “Occupation” Of Palestinian lands will top the agenda in the Moscow talks.
“No conditions will be put forward during our visit to Moscow,” Mashaal said. “We will listen to Russia’s position and clarify ours.”
‘Hamas won’t listen to Russia’
Russia’s special Middle East envoy, Alexander Kalugin, said the aim of the talks was not to dictate conditions to Hamas but to use persuasion.
“We’re not going to put forward demands. We’ll seek to convince them that now is the time to take responsible decisions. If you come to power and form a government, you must understand you are assuming a great responsibility,” Kalugin said Thursday in an interview with NTV.
Russian analysts were skeptical of Moscow’s ability to persuade Hamas to revise a radical ideology it has held since the group formed in 1987. They predicted that the talks would lead nowhere.
“Hamas won’t listen to Russia because Moscow has no real levers of influence over them,” Said Fyodor Lukyanov, editor of the foreign policy magazine Russia in Global Affairs. “This is not the time of the Soviet Union, when we had real clout in the region.”
Putin’s invitation to Hamas last month was the latest bid by Moscow to invigorate its role in Middle East peacemaking.
Moscow, which was a major player in the Middle East during the Soviet period when it provided aid to several Arab countries, belongs to the so-called Quartet of Middle East mediators alongside the United States, the European Union and United Nations.
Hamas’ election victory prompted threats from the U.S. and the EU to cut off USD 1 billion in aid to the Palestinians unless Hamas recognizes Israel and renounces violence.