Palestinians court Russia as new broker in peace process

Abbas to meet Putin on February 12 as Ramallah seeks replacement for US role; Russian officials hear Israeli concerns about Iranian missiles

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)

After declaring that the US was no longer qualified to act as an “honest broker” in any peace process with Israel, the Palestinian Authority is trying to persuade Russia to play a role in efforts to solve the conflict.

PA President Mahmoud Abbas is scheduled to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin in the Black Sea summer beach resort of Sochi on February 12.

Abbas will 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, said a PA official in Ramallah. The PA president has also been seeking greater European involvement in the peace process.

Relations between the PA and the US administration have rapidly deteriorated since Trump’s announcement recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel last December. US threats to cut funds to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees have further exacerbated tensions between the Trump administration and the PA.

“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.”

US President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meet on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on January 25, 2018 (AFP Photo/Nicholas Kamm)

On 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 attended the meeting with the Russian emissaries.

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 Palestinian official news agency Wafa.

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 reported.

In addition to Russia, the Quartet on the Middle East, which was established in Madrid in 2002, comprises the United Nations, the United States and the European Union.

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.

Israel’s ambassador to the UN, Danny Dannon, said that Abbas’s address to the council would further damage prospects for direct peace talks with Israel.

Lebanon ‘a base for missiles against Israel’

Before heading the Ramallah, the Russian officials met Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem for talks that focused on security cooperation and Iran’s efforts to entrench itself in Lebanon. Netanyahu had met with Putin in Moscow on Monday.

Russian Federation Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev, left, meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, February 1, 2018. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

The Russian delegation’s visit to Israel was part of “the framework of the dialogue between the Israeli and Russian national security teams following the first round of talks held in Moscow approximately three months ago,” a spokesperson for Netanyahu said.

Talks have focused on Israel’s concerns over Iranian efforts to establish a presence in Syria and “its attempt to turn Lebanon into a base for missiles against Israel,” as well as security cooperation with Moscow, the spokesperson said.

Israel has been coordinating its activities in Syria — including, reportedly, dozens of airstrikes against weapons shipments bound for the Lebanese terror group Hezbollah — with Russia, whose military has been shoring up the regime of President Bashar Assad.

Members of the Russian delegation visited the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum Thursday, and were set to visit the City of David and Western Wall Tunnels in Jerusalem, Netanyahu’s spokesperson said.

Times of Israel staff and AFP contributed to this report.

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