Nevertheless, government sources in Jerusalem said they have some doubts about the Russian claim, as they have received contradictory reports from Washington. They added that they expect the situation to become clearer at next week's meeting of donor nations to the Palestinian Authority, as representatives of the Quartet of Middle East peacemakers - the U.S., European Union, United Nations and Russia - will meet on the sidelines to discuss whether to hold a Moscow conference and if so, when and in what format.
According to the Foreign Ministry's information, obtained from conversations with Russian diplomats in both Moscow and UN headquarters in New York, the conference would probably take place in April 2008 and would be at the level of foreign ministers.
Last month's Middle East peace summit, held in Annapolis, Maryland, focused almost exclusively on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and Russia had expressed interest in hosting a follow-up event that would broaden the agenda. Thus far, no member of the Quartet has publicly voiced opposition to Russia's proposal.
The Russian diplomats assured their Israeli counterparts that the proposed Moscow event, like Annapolis, would be billed as a "meeting" rather than a "conference." They also said that its purpose would not be to finalize agreements, but merely to move the Middle East peace process forward.
According to the information reaching Jerusalem, the Russians would like to divide the event into two sessions. The first would be devoted to assessing the progress of bilateral negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, while the second would deal with the issue of a comprehensive regional peace, with particular emphasis on resumption of negotiations between Israel and Syria, and the launching of Israeli-Lebanese talks.
According to the Russians, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice approves of both the proposed Moscow meeting and the idea of restarting Israeli-Syrian talks.
Jerusalem also supports plan
The Russians' impression is that Israel, too, looks favorably on both the meeting and the Syrian focus. Last Wednesday, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin, and the two discussed the idea.
Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, who heads the Israeli team negotiating with the PA, met with her Palestinian counterpart, Ahmed Qureia, on Monday in order to finalize the agenda for a meeting of the full negotiating teams, which is slated to take place Tuesday in Jerusalem. "The first meeting of the negotiating teams will deal mainly with procedure and technical arrangements," said an Israeli government source.
PA threatens to boycott
But Palestinian sources threatened Monday that the PA would boycott the session if Israel did not stop construction of 307 apartments in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Har Homa.
In addition, the diplomatic-security cabinet will meet tomorrow to discuss the situation in the Gaza Strip. Various defense agencies will present reviews of the situation, and a senior government official said the main focus will be on the defense establishment's views about launching a major military operation against Hamas and other terrorist organizations in Gaza.
"The last [security] cabinet meeting dealt with civilian sanctions, because then, the defense establishment said that it did not support a large military operation in Gaza," the official said. "Since then, there has been a shift in its position, and therefore, cabinet ministers need to hear about this first-hand."