Abbas sends envoys to China, Russia to seek replacement for US in peace process
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Abbas sends envoys to China, Russia to seek replacement for US in peace process

Moscow and Beijing express interest in taking leading roles in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

Dov Lieber is The Times of Israel's Arab affairs correspondent.

China's President Xi Jinping (right), and his Palestinian counterpart, Mahmoud Abbas, attend a signing ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China. (photo credit: AP/Jason Lee)
China's President Xi Jinping (right), and his Palestinian counterpart, Mahmoud Abbas, attend a signing ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China. (photo credit: AP/Jason Lee)

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Tuesday dispatched delegations to China and Russia in the hopes of finding international partners to “replace” the United States as mediator for the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

Abbas has said he will no longer accept the US as a mediator after US President Donald Trump recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel on December 6.

Israel has always rejected significant involvement of any mediator apart from the United States in negotiations with the Palestinians.

“The two delegations will convey a message from President Abbas to Russia and China, the purpose of which is to find a new international sponsor for the peace process, in the framework of the United Nations, in order to replace the American sponsorship,” said senior PA official Ahmad Majdalani, according to a report in the official PA news site Wafa.

Majdalani is leading the delegation to China while Abbas’s foreign affairs aide Nabil Shaath is heading the team going to Russia, the report said.

In a December 6 address from the White House, Trump defied worldwide warnings and insisted that after repeated failures to achieve peace, a new approach was long overdue. He described his decision to recognize Jerusalem as the seat of Israel’s government as merely based on reality.

Chinese President Xi Jinping (L) listens as Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (R) speaks during a meeting at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on July 18, 2017. (AFP Photo/Pool/Mark Schiefelbein)

The move was hailed by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and by leaders across much of the Israeli political spectrum. Trump stressed that he was not specifying the boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in the city, and called for no change in the status quo at the city’s holy sites.

Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem has never been recognized internationally, and all countries currently maintain their embassies in Tel Aviv. The Palestinians claim Jerusalem as the capital of a future state.

The Palestinians have argued that the US has disqualified itself as an honest broker by deciding on the key issue of Jerusalem outside the framework of negotiations.

Netanyahu and Abbas have repeatedly declared their willingness for face-to-face talks, and blamed each other for dodging a proposed September 2016 meet-up in Moscow.

On Monday, Washington vetoed a United Nations Security Council resolution supported by the 14 other Council members to force Trump to rescind his declaration of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

Soon after, Russia’s deputy UN ambassador Vladimir Safronkov said it was becoming more important to move “as quickly as possible towards direct Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.” He reiterated Russia’s proposal to hold a summit between the Palestinian and Israeli leaders.

Russian Deputy Permanent Representative to the United Nations Vladimir Safronkov speaks during a UN Security Council meeting over the situation in the Middle East on December 18, 2017, at UN Headquarters in New York. (AFP PHOTO / KENA BETANCUR)

“We are ready to become an honest mediator here,” he said.

The Palestinians immediately announced that they would seek a resolution with similar demands in the 193-member General Assembly, where there are no vetoes. The session will be held on Thursday. Unlike the Security Council, the assembly’s resolutions are not legally binding.

Beijing has expressed increasing interest in particpating in the peace process.

Soon after Chinese President Xi Jinping met Abbas in July, he released a four-point plan for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The Israeli daily Haaretz reported on Monday that an Israeli delegation would also be heading to Beijing this week and would hold talks with the Palestinians.

Majdalani, however, said that the Palestinian delegations do not plan to hold any talks with Israeli officials while in Russia or China.

Agencies contributed to this report. 

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