Russia reportedly rejects Kerry request to adopt his Mideast peace framework

Lavrov urges direct talks, warns outgoing administration against ‘bringing US domestic agenda into work of Quartet’

Raoul Wootliff is the The Times of Israel's political correspondent.

Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavro (left) and US Secretary of State John Kerry talk during a meeting of the International Syria Support Group, September 22, 2016. (AP Photo/Jason DeCrow)
Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavro (left) and US Secretary of State John Kerry talk during a meeting of the International Syria Support Group, September 22, 2016. (AP Photo/Jason DeCrow)

Amid frantic diplomatic maneuvers ahead of a Wednesday speech by US Secretary of State John Kerry on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Russia reportedly rejected a request by United States for the Middle East Quartet to adopt the principles set to be presented in the speech.

Kerry spoke with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Tuesday night, at which time the Russian foreign minister dismissed the US secretary’s proposal, according to Haaretz.

Lavrov subsequently released a statement urging direct peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.

“The two top diplomats exchanged views on the situation in the Palestinian-Israeli settlement and around it,” says a transcript from the call, which appears on Russia’s semi-official Tass news agency.

“Lavrov stressed the necessity of creating conditions for direct talks between the leaders of Israel and Palestine and warned against bringing US’ domestic agenda into the work of the Middle East Quartet and the United Nations Security Council. He stressed that attempts to use these formats in bickering between the Democrats and Republicans are harmful.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly fears that the Middle East Quartet — made up of the US, UN, Russia and EU — could adopt the principles set out by Kerry Wednesday at a Paris summit on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict next month, and then return to the Security Council in the very last days of Barack Obama’s presidency to cement these new parameters in a resolution on Mideast peacemaking.

On Friday, Russia was one of 14 states that voted in favor of a Security Council resolution denouncing Israeli settlements. The decision, which infuriated Israel, was allowed to pass after the US decided to depart from its traditional policy and abstain instead of veto the resolution.

According to a partial account by Haaretz of some behind-the-scenes events before the anti-settlements vote, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had hoped Russia would delay the vote in return for Israel’s acquiescence to a Russian request to skip a UN General Assembly vote days earlier on a resolution that would have allowed for the establishment of a mechanism to investigate allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Syria.

Netanyahu called Russian President Vladimir Putin hours before the vote Friday, according to Haaretz, in an attempt to persuade him to postpone. It seems Putin answered the call: less than an hour before the 15-member council was set to cast votes, Russian Ambassador to the United Nations Vitaly Churkin asked for closed consultations to request a delay on the vote until after the Christmas holiday.

Churkin, according to Western diplomats who spoke to Haaretz, said Russia was not satisfied with the text, which slammed Israeli settlement building and expansion in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and with the timing of the vote — just weeks before a new US administration is set to take power.

But Churkin was rebuffed and the vote passed with the 14 votes in favor, including Russia’s, and the US abstention.

The Middle East Quartet’s June 30 report lambasted Israeli settlement expansions but was seen in Israel as a success because of its unexpected focus on Palestinian wrongdoing. That document was issued jointly on behalf of United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, US Secretary of State John Kerry, European Union foreign policy czar Federica Mogherini and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

Kerry was originally slated to give his address on Thursday, in the immediate aftermath of the scheduled vote, but canceled the speech after Egypt pulled the resolution at the last minute, apparently responding to pressure from Israel and US President-elect Donald Trump. The measure was reintroduced Friday by New Zealand, Senegal, Malaysia and Venzuela.

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