Russia makes a move, and its a bad one

Hamas’ victory in Palestinian elections last month has dramatically upset the Middle East geopolitical apple cart. Until now the status quo, with Fatah as Israel’s Palestinian negotiating partner, had been working reasonably well for both parties.

So, what is the status of the status quo today?

After weeks of caution, Russia has announced it will meet with Hamas leaders in Moscow, thus shattering the Quartet’s uniform dismay over the group’s rising influence.

By meeting formally with Hamas, Russia confers legitimacy on a terrorist gang — regardless of electoral successes. That is a legitimacy Israel cannot afford. As an article in this week’s j. suggests, Russia’s misguided move could fatally undermine the “road map to peace” and set back years of international efforts to stabilize the region.

Why would Russian President Vladimir Putin do that? For argument’s sake, let’s assume his intentions are benign. With Muslim nations all along Russia’s southern border, it is understandable that he would want to maximize good relations with his neighbors.

It is also understandable that Russia would like to recapture a measure of her former glory as an important world player and have an voice in resolving the Mideast conflict.

Finally, let us assume that as a fledgling democracy itself, Russia has a vested interest in seeing democratically elected governments succeed everywhere, even if they bring unsavory groups to power.

Given that all the above assumptions were true, Russia’s coddling of Hamas still would lead to no good outcome. Russian overtures to an unrepentant Hamas would only have the effect of dividing the West, isolating Israel and, worst of all, encouraging old-school Arab rejectionism.

That’s if Russia’s intentions are good. But perhaps they are not.

Despite the country’s halting march toward democracy, observers in Russia point to increasing secrecy, censorship, even tyranny. During the Cold War, the Soviet Union was a reliable arms supplier to the worst Arab governments. And no Jew need be reminded of the country’s sorry treatment of its Jewish minority.

It is important that the United States and Israel maintain the best possible ties with Russia. As Israeli political scientist Avi Primor said this week, “Relations with Russia are far too important to create a crisis over this.”

Point taken. But should Russian overtures to Hamas lead to a more intransigent Palestinian Authority or greater Western acceptance of anti-Israeli terror, then the crisis will have arrived, like it or not.