Abbas warms up to Moscow amid cold US-Palestinian ties

Putin gave no promises to the Palestinian leader of a wider mediation mechanism for the peace process.
Sunday 18/02/2018
Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) hugs Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas during their meeting in the Kremlin in Moscow, on February 12.  (AFP)
Shoulders to lean on. Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) hugs Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas during their meeting in the Kremlin in Moscow, on February 12. (AFP)

LONDON - Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas visited Moscow in apparent bid to garner diplomatic support as his ties with Washington deteriorate following the Trump administration’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and plans to move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to the holy city.

Russian President Vladimir Putin started the February 12 meeting with Abbas by conveying to the Palestinian leader a well-wishing message from US President Donald Trump.

“I just spoke with American President Trump,” Putin told Abbas. “Naturally we spoke about the Palestinian-Israeli settlement…

I would like to convey to you his best wishes,” added Putin.

The “situation is far from what we want to see… [as Russia had] always supported the Palestinian people,” Putin said. “It is very important for us to know your personal opinion to set the record straight and put in place a common approach to solve this problem.”

Abbas said he did not want the United States to be the main broker of the Middle East peace process because he believed that the Trump administration has become squarely on Israel’s side.

“Given the atmosphere created by the United States’ actions, we… refuse any cooperation with the United States as a mediator,” said Abbas. “In case of an international meeting, we ask that the United States be not the only mediator but just one of the mediators.”

He said he wanted an expanded mediation mechanism to replace the Middle East Quartet. “For instance, ‘the quartet’ plus some other countries like the model used to achieve the deal on Iran,” Abbas said, in a reference to international talks about Tehran’s nuclear programme.

Putin did not announce any promises to the Palestinian leader regarding his vision for a wider mediation mechanism for the peace process.

Before his trip to Moscow, Abbas hosted Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the Israeli-occupied West Bank to secure New Delhi’s support for having an alternative peace broker to the United States.

“We consider a multilateral mechanism that emerges from an international peace conference as the ideal way to sponsor the negotiations,” said Abbas. “Here we count on India, with its status as a great power, its historical role in the non-aligned movement and in international forums… to achieve a just peace.”

Palestinian Authority President Mahmud Abbas (R) and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi embrace in the West Bank city of Ramallah on February 10. (AFP)

Modi pledged $41 million for aid projects in the West Bank and reiterated India’s “support for the Palestinian cause” but did not back Abbas’s bid to sideline Washington.

“We believe a permanent solution to Palestine is possible through dialogue. Only diplomacy and farsightedness can break the cycle of violence and free it from the baggage of the past,” Modi said.

Abbas’s failed attempts to secure Russian and Indian diplomatic backing against Washington coincided with a rare display of discord between the United States and Israel. The White House denied an Israeli claim that the two sides were discussing the possibility of Israel’s annexation of Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

“On the subject of applying sovereignty, I can say that I have been talking to the Americans about it for some time,” Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu told his Likud Party’s legislators.

Washington’s response was unambiguous.

“Reports that the United States discussed with Israel an annexation plan for the West Bank are false,” White House spokesman Josh Raffel said. “The United States and Israel have never discussed such a proposal and the president’s focus remains squarely on his Israeli-Palestinian peace initiative.”

The response came one day after Israel Hayom, a pro-Netanyahu newspaper, published an interview with Trump in which he appeared critical — albeit mildly — of Israeli policies.

“The settlements are something that very much complicate and always have complicated making peace, so I think Israel has to be very careful with the settlements,” Trump said. “I would say the Palestinians are not looking to make peace, they are not looking to make peace and I am not necessarily sure that Israel is looking to make peace.”

All Israeli settlements are considered illegal under international law because they are built on occupied territories, and Israel’s continued building of the settlements was among the main reasons the US-brokered peace talks collapsed in 2014.

Separately a spat broke out between the US ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, a staunch supporter of settlements, and Israel’s liberal newspaper Haaretz, which opposes its government’s settler policy.

In a column, Haaretz accused Friedman of “encouraging and funding war crimes and violations of international law,” prompting the Israeli ambassador to hit back by questioning the paper’s “decency.”

The exchange came following the killing of an Israeli rabbi in the Har Bracha settlement by an Israeli Arab.