Russia is reportedly seeking to arrange a meeting in the coming weeks between US and Palestinian officials to help renew ties between Washington and Ramallah, which have frayed during US President Donald Trump’s presidency.
Citing unnamed Western diplomats, Channel 13 news reported Wednesday the planned meeting in Geneva is also aimed at preventing an escalation of violence in the West Bank and allowing the Palestinian Authority to propose changes to US President Donald Trump’s Israeli-Palestinian peace plan, which it has rejected out of hand.
The European Union and United Nations were also part of the Russian effort, viewing it as an opportunity to jump-start peace talks and halt Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s vow to annex parts of the West Bank that would become part of Israel under the US plan, the report said.
“The only way to stop annexation is to renew contact between the Palestinians and the US government,” a Western diplomat was quoted saying.
The PA has boycotted the White House since Trump’s 2017 recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and the transfer of the US embassy to the city, the eastern part of which Palestinians claim for a future state.
The US has since cut hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to the Palestinians and the UN agency that supports Palestinian refugees, and closed the PLO representative office in Washington, further drawing the ire of the PA.
According to the TV report, Russia was seeking to get around the PA’s boycott of the Trump administration by making the meeting a “mini-summit” that would also include representatives from the Middle East Quartet — the EU, the UN, the US and Russia — and officials from Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and the Palestinian Authority.
It was unclear if Israel would also be invited, or how such a summit would be held amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The proposed meeting was discussed in a Tuesday phone call between Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov and US peace envoy Avi Berkowitz, the report said.
Sources familiar with the content of the call told the network that Berkowitz didn’t rule out the initiative, but conditioned American participation on having the meeting deal with the Trump plan and the Palestinians’ suggested changes to the proposal.
Bogdanov also reportedly phoned PLO Secretary-General Saeb Erekat to discuss the meeting, with the senior Palestinian official not rejecting it but also not giving a definitive answer on whether the PA would attend.
The report came as new Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi spoke with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov for the first time on Wednesday.
During the phone call, Lavrov stressed Moscow’s opposition to Israeli annexation of West Bank territory, the Haaretz daily reported.
A readout of the phone call from the Foreign Ministry didn’t mention annexation, which the coalition deal between Netanyahu’s Likud party and Blue and White allows the new government to move forward with from July 1.
Prevention and reprisal
Amid growing calls for Israel not to apply sovereignty over settlements and the Jordan Valley, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said Wednesday that France was working with other European states to discourage Israel from annexation.
During a parliament meeting, Le Drian said this included formulating a plan to prevent annexation and retaliate if Israel goes through with the move.
“For the past few days we have held several video conferences with European colleagues… with a view to deciding on a joint preventive action and eventually a reprisal if such a decision were taken,” he was quoted saying by France 24.
France was also among the countries to speak out against annexation at a UN Security Council meeting Wednesday.
During the session, the UN’s Middle East peace envoy Nickolay Mladenov called on Israel to drop plans to annex parts of the West Bank, while telling Palestinians to resume talks with the Quartet.
Following the Security Council meeting and separate talks with Palestinian officials, the Vatican said that Israel’s possible annexation of large parts of the West Bank could further compromise peace talks.
The latest round of condemnations come after the European Union’s top diplomat on Monday warned Israel against annexation, saying the bloc would not recognize any changes to the 1967 lines not agreed upon in a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians.
Agencies contributed to this report.