Abbas heads to Moscow in bid to sideline US from peace process
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Abbas heads to Moscow in bid to sideline US from peace process

PA head expected to ask Putin to help craft international multilateral mechanism, but envoy admits Washington still has some role to play

Khaled Abu Toameh is the Palestinian Affairs correspondent for The Times of Israel

Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) shakes hands with his Palestinian counterpart Mahmoud Abbas during their meeting at the Novo-Ogaryovo residence outside Moscow on April 13, 2015. (Photo credit: AFP/ POOL / SERGEI ILNITSKY)
Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) shakes hands with his Palestinian counterpart Mahmoud Abbas during their meeting at the Novo-Ogaryovo residence outside Moscow on April 13, 2015. (Photo credit: AFP/ POOL / SERGEI ILNITSKY)

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is expected to ask Russian President Vladimir Putin to help form an international multilateral mechanism for sponsoring the peace process between the Palestinians and Israel, PA officials said on Sunday.

Abbas and Putin are scheduled to meet in Moscow on Monday.

The meeting was originally slated to take place in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, but was moved following Sunday’s plane crash near Moscow in which 71 passengers and crew were killed.

Abbas, the officials said, wants Russia and other countries to play a larger role in any peace process with Israel in a bid to supplant the US, in the wake of what Ramallah calls Washington’s “hostile policies” towards the Palestinians.

Relations between the US President Donald Trump’s administration and the PA have been strained since a December 6 announcement recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

The PA has argued that the Trump administration was no longer qualified to play the role of honest broker in any peace process due to its “bias” in favor of Israel.

Palestinians collect food aid at a United Nations food distribution center in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip on January 28, 2018. (Said Khatib/AFP)

The Palestinians are also upset with Trump’s threats to cut funding to cut funding to the PA and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA).

“Russia and Putin can play an important role within the frame of an international forum for peace,” said Majdi al-Khalidi, diplomatic adviser to Abbas.

He pointed out that Russia’s membership in the UN Security Council and the Mideast Quartet for peace enables it to play an active role in any effort to achieve peace between the Palestinians and Israel.

The Quartet, which was established in Madrid in 2002 to promote peace in the Middle East, comprises Russia, the UN, EU and the US.

Al-Khalidi said that the Abbas-Putin meeting was “important” because it comes on the eve of the PA president’s address before the UN General Assembly later this month.

Another top PA official in Ramallah said that Abbas was planning to use the UN podium to renew his call for holding an international conference for peace in the Middle East as a substitute for an US-sponsored peace process.

Abbas will affirm the need that the conference be held on the basis of all international resolutions pertaining to the Israeli-Arab conflict, the official added.

“President Abbas is hoping to win Putin’s support for the idea of an international multilateral mechanism for achieving peace in the Middle East,” the official added.

According to the official, the US has over the past 11 years opposed the idea of an international conference, insisting on direct negotiations between the Palestinians and Israel as the preferred method to ending the conflict.

But the PA envoy to Moscow, Abd al Hafiz Nofal, was quoted on Sunday as saying that the Palestinian goal was not to completely exclude the US from any Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

“We are only asking that other parties join the US in sponsoring the peace process,” Nofal said. “Our goal is to end US exclusivity. We have also explored the positions of other parties, such as the EU and China.”

The PA envoy acknowledged that the international mechanism idea would not be easy to put together as both the US and Israel are opposed to it.

Other US allies have also pointedly reiterated the US’s central role in the peace process.

Nofal said the PA leadership wants to pave the way for a constructive dialogue between the superpowers with the hope that they would reach an agreement on a new formula for the peace process.

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