Abbas, Putin to discuss new peace talks mechanism sidelining US – report

Palestinians seeking to oust Middle East Quartet from process, and have Russia play a much more prominent role

Russian President Vladimir Putin (left) greets Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at the Bocharov Ruchei residence in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, Russia, May 11, 2017. (Alexei Druzhinin/Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)
Russian President Vladimir Putin (left) greets Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at the Bocharov Ruchei residence in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, Russia, May 11, 2017. (Alexei Druzhinin/Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

When they meet on February 12, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Russian President Vladimir Putin will discuss a new proposed peace negotiations mechanism meant to sideline the United States, a Palestinian diplomat in Russia told the Russian Interfax news agency on Wednesday.

The two men are scheduled to meet in the Black Sea beach resort of Sochi.

Interfax reported the new mechanism would seek to replace the Middle East Quartet, established in Madrid in 2002, which is composed of the US, the UN, the EU and Russia.

The announcement comes as the Palestinian Authority is trying to convince Russia to play a much more prominent role in the peace talks, having declared the US unqualified to act as an “honest broker” due to President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

At the Sochi meeting, Abbas is expected to tell Putin that the Palestinians do not believe the Trump administration is capable of playing any “constructive” or “positive” role in efforts to achieve peace with Israel, a PA official in Ramallah said last week. The PA president has also been seeking greater European involvement in the peace process.

Relations between the PA and the US administration have soured rapidly since Trump’s December 6 announcement. US threats to cut funds to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees have further exacerbated tensions.

“We are hoping that Russia and the EU will step in to fill the void,” the PA official said. “We believe that these countries should and can play a larger role in any peace process in the wake of the Trump administration’s hostile policies toward the Palestinians and bias in favor of Israel.”

Last Thursday, Abbas met in his Ramallah office with two senior Russian officials, Nikolai Patrushev, secretary of the security council, and Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov. PLO Secretary-General Saeb Erekat and PA General Intelligence Chief Majed Faraj also attended the meeting.

Abbas told them that the PA was interested in developing and strengthening its relations with Russia. He also expressed appreciation for Russia’s support for the Palestinians in various areas, according to the official Palestinian news agency Wafa.

Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas (C) attends the “Jerusalem Conference as the Capital of the Islamic Youth” in the West Bank city of Ramallah on February 6, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / ABBAS MOMANI)

Abbas emphasized the importance of Russia’s political stance, due to its “great weight in the international arena and as part of the Quartet, which should continue to play a fair and just role,” Wafa quoted him as saying.

Wafa quoted the Russian officials as saying that Putin was looking forward to his meeting with the PA president. The envoys also affirmed Russia’s continued support for the Palestinians and efforts to achieve peace in the Middle East, it said.

Amid his efforts to rally the international community against the US, Abbas will also deliver a rare address to the UN Security Council on February 20, the council’s president said Thursday.

On Tuesday, Abbas insisted that the Palestinians have never rejected any invitation to resume peace talks with Israel.

“Our hands are extended for peace through negotiations,” he said. “We support the war on terrorism in every place in the world.”

Still, Abbas, who was speaking at the Jerusalem Capital of Muslim Youth 2018 festival in Ramallah, reiterated that the US administration was no longer qualified to act as an honest broker in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

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