Russia’s ambassador to Israel on Monday preferred not to specifically endorse Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s demand that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state.

Asked by The Times of Israel about Moscow’s position on an issue Netanyahu says is essential to solving the Middle East conflict, Sergey Yakovlev responded: “I worked for more than five years as the Russian foreign minister’s special envoy for the Middle East, and the Israeli partners raised this issue I think three or four years ago. We reminded [them] that when [British mandate] Palestine was divided into two countries by the UN resolution [in 1947], it was mentioned that it would be two states — one Arab state and the other Jewish. Why should we again recognize the Jewish state of Israel? We did it in ‘48.” The Soviet Union voted in favor of the partition in the historic 1947 UN vote that led to the establishment of Israel in 1948.

Yakovlev was speaking to the Times of Israel on the sidelines of a panel of diplomats in which he participated, at a conference organized by World Jewish Congress and the Israel Council on Foreign Relations in Jerusalem.

In recent days, Netanyahu has put special emphasis on the assertion that Palestinian recognition of Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people is an absolute prerequisite for any future peace deal. “We all want genuine peace, stable and safe and not an agreement that will fall apart as soon as it is signed,” he said last Monday at the opening of the Knesset’s winter session. “This peace is based on two foundations: security and mutual recognition.”

He went on: “Recognizing Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people means completely abandoning the ‘right of return’ and ending any other national demands over the land and sovereignty of the State of Israel. This is a crucial component for a genuine reconciliation and stable and durable peace.” A peace agreement without recognition “will never happen,” he concluded.

The United States has indicated in the past that it deems Netanyahu’s demand reasonable. “Palestinians must recognize that Israel will be a Jewish state,” US President Barack Obama said in Jerusalem during his March visit. The German government, too, in principle supports Israel’s request to be recognized as a Jewish state.

In a Q&A session at the end of the panel discussion, Yakovlev said Moscow sees the recent resumption of peace talks as a “giant” step forward. “Many steps have been made, and we feel that both sides are serious about the negotiations. We believe there will be results in the near future. We understand the security threats to Israel, and we know both sides will have to go down a long and winding road. However, a solution is possible,” he said, according to quotes provided by WJC.

Regarding the Syrian civil war, Yakovlev said he was “pleased” with the progress achieved in recent days.

The Arab League on Sunday announced an international peace conference on Syria would take place shortly in Geneva.

“Russian diplomacy works around the clock to find a solution to the situation and are pleased with the progress. Nevertheless, we must not forget other aspects of the Syrian situation. We are concerned about the human rights aspect, as the situation is complex due to many regions of Syria that are controlled by the opposition. We believe that the Syrian government will find ways to bring support to all the regions. Russia and the United States will deal together with this issue: our joint goal is to help Syrians combat terrorism and extremism,” said Yakovlev.

The government of Russian President Vladimir Putin is one of the Assad regime’s few supporters in the international community. More than 100,000 Syrians have died and about 1.5 million were forced to flee the country since the bloody civil war between troops of President Bashar Assad and opposition groups started in early 2011.