JERUSALEM,(Reuters) – Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni has cancelled plans to attend a U.N. meeting in Qatar because legislators from the Islamist militant group Hamas are expected to be there, officials said on Sunday.
Israel has low-level ties with Qatar, but Livni’s attendance at the United Nations convention on democracy would have been the first visit by a leading Israeli government minister to the Gulf state in a decade.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev said Livni had never finalised her plans, but decided not to go after learning that two legislators from Hamas, the Palestinian ruling party, would be attending. He said the international community had made clear that no legitimacy could be given to Hamas until it recognised the Jewish state and renounced violence.
Israel — backed by the West — has boycotted contact with Hamas, which won Palestinian elections in January. Hamas’s charter calls for the Jewish state’s destruction.
Regev said the ministry had instead sent Yaacov Hadas, its deputy director for Middle East affairs, to the conference.
The last Israeli government minister to visit Qatar was Shimon Peres, who opened a trade office there as prime minister in 1996.
Israel has courted what it sees as moderate Arab countries, such as Qatar, as potential allies against Iran’s nuclear programme and in fighting militants.