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Russia to convene Mideast quartet for talks on West Bank annexation plans

Russian, US, UN and EU envoys to meet via video conference as Moscow works to bring Palestinians back to peace process amid anger over Trump peace plan

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas,  shakes hands with Russian President Vladimir Putin during their meeting at the Palestinian Authority headquarters in Bethlehem, Jan 23, 2020.  (Alexander Nemenov, Pool via AP)
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, shakes hands with Russian President Vladimir Putin during their meeting at the Palestinian Authority headquarters in Bethlehem, Jan 23, 2020. (Alexander Nemenov, Pool via AP)

Representatives of the so-called Middle East Quartet were set to meet Friday via video conference amid efforts by Moscow to deter Israel from annexing parts of the West Bank and bring the Palestinians back to talks.

“Today, a video conference of the ‘Quartet’ on the Middle Eastern settlement will take place at the level of special representatives,” said Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova, according to the TASS news agency, adding that Russia will be represented by Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Vershinin.

The Quartet is made up of the United Nations, the European Union, the United States and Russia.

According to Channel 13, Russian Special Presidential Envoy for the Middle East Mikhail Bogdanov spoke Thursday with the Israeli Chargé d’Affaires in Moscow, Eli Belotserkovsky, to update him on the planned conference call.

According to the report, senior Russian officials confirmed that Russia is seeking to promote an international conference with the participation of the quartet, several Arab nations and the Palestinians.

It was unclear whether an invitation would be extended to Israel to attend the conference.

The senior Russian officials said that Israel had been warned several times by Russia that unilateral annexation would lead to an escalation of violence.

Russian President Vladimir Putin holds a bouquet of flowers next to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as they meet at the Kremlin in Moscow on January 30, 2020. (Maxim Shemetov/Pool/AFP)

“We are extremely concerned that Israeli annexation would be a provocation that will lead to a deterioration of the situation in the West Bank that will lead to violent confrontation and undermine stability in the entire region,” the report quoted unnamed officials as saying.

On Wednesday, the Russian foreign ministry issued a call to Israel and the Palestinians to refrain from taking any steps that could lead to regional escalation.

“We are urging all parties to refrain from any steps that could provoke a new dangerous escalation in the region and prevent the establishment of conditions for renewal of direct Palestinian-Israeli talks,” the ministry said.

Al-Ayyam, an Arabic language newspaper based in Ramallah has reported that UN Secretary-General António Guterres called Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Wednesday to update him about the idea of a meeting on a ministerial level under UN auspices.

According to Channel 13, Abbas told Guterres that the Palestinians would not agree that the meeting be based on the Trump plan.

A previous Channel 13 report earlier this week claimed the summit would allow 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 as 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.

Abbas announced Tuesday that the Palestinians were no longer bound by agreements with Israel and the US, citing the new Israeli government’s plan to move forward with annexation plans.

On Friday Palestinian security forces withdrew from areas near East Jerusalem after the Palestinian Authority ended its security coordination with Israel, according to multiple reports.

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