Russia unlikely to bring Abbas, Netanyahu together
Ramallah - Although Palestinian- Israeli negotiations remain stalled, Russia and other world powers are trying to get Palestinian and Israeli leaders to negotiate even before the United States’ traditional role as sponsor fizzles out with the approaching presidential elections.
After Israel flatly rejected an initiative by French President François Hollande to restart Israeli-Palestinian talks, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu postponed a meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas that Russian President Vladimir Putin had planned to host in September.
An Israeli official said chances for the meeting to be held under Moscow’s auspices still exist.
“The most important thing is that Palestinians drop preconditions to the meeting,” the official told The Arab Weekly, insisting on anonymity, citing the sensitivity of the information.
Abbas has said he was not interested in another photo opportunity with the Israeli leader but wants to get to certain issues to make progress towards a comprehensive peace settlement. Israel, however, insists on an open agenda for the meeting.
Despite the interpretations of Netanyahu’s decision to postpone the meeting, Abbas affirmed his commitment to peace and readiness for any encounter with the Israeli leader.
The proposed meeting received attention because it was called for by Russia, which has gained a higher profile in the Middle East, fighting alongside forces allied with Syrian President Bashar Assad. It has also been trying to take over from where the United States left off as the main broker in Palestinian-Israeli peace negotiations.
The last time Abbas and Netanyahu publicly met was in 2010. Despite media reports of unpublicised correspondences or a handshake and greeting at international forums, the two have reached a dead end with Netanyahu’s insistence on bilateral talks and Abbas’s preconditions.
While Abbas reiterated willingness to meet Netanyahu anywhere around the world, Palestinian officials were quick to rebuke Netanyahu.
Abbas’s spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeineh said Netanyahu “had once again shown a lack of seriousness in searching for a just peace based on the two-state solution, especially as settlement activities and Israeli violations continue against the Palestinian people”.
He said the decision to postpone the meeting with Abbas confirms Israel’s desire to evade any international peace initiative to save the peace process.
Deputy-Secretary of the Fatah Central Committee Jibril Rajoub said Netanyahu wants to manage the conflict instead of end it.
Netanyahu accused Abbas, by insisting on preconditions, of having no desire to meet.
“Palestinian spokespeople clarified that they are prepared to meet but that they have conditions — the release of prisoners and they also want to know beforehand what will be the end result of the talks,” he said recently at a news conference in The Hague.
The Palestinian presidency reiterated that moving the peace process requires Israel to meet its obligations, namely stop illegal settlement construction, release the fourth batch of prisoners and commit to international peace resolutions to establish a Palestinian state based on 1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital.
However, the question that arises is the futility of efforts to have any direct negotiations between the Palestinians and Israelis when both have made their positions clear.
Political analysts said the meeting will never take place because for Abbas to meet and shake hands with Netanyahu without achieving some of the demands will damage the Palestinian Authority’s image, which is suffering due to internal divisions and growing criticism inside and out.
Analyst Abdul Satar Qasim said Abbas would “suffer a major loss if he meets Netanyahu without securing some of the demands he insisted on for several years”.
On the other hand, Israel is adamant to keep the Palestinian cause away from the international arena because the roof of Arab and Palestinian demands is much lower than the international one. “This is why Israel rejected the French and Russian initiatives but approved the Egyptian,” said Qasim.
There is a Palestinian understanding that there is an attempt to foil the French initiative by introducing a new one that would free Israel of its obligation in front of the international community, especially after rejecting the French initiative, which had received approval from many governments.
Analyst George Jaqaman said Egypt was doing Israel a favour by foiling the French initiative while Russia was aiming to become more involved in the peace talks due to a power vacuum since the US-led talks hit a standstill in April 2015.
While Abbas insisted that he would never relinquish his preconditions to negotiations, his statement that he was willing to meet anywhere opens questions on whether he would eventually agree to meet with no preconditions.
Jaqaman said he believed the meeting would never happen because Abbas would damage his status internally and prove that the Palestinian Authority was acting for survival only, instead of doing what is best for the Palestinian people.
Netanyahu will not agree to Abbas’s preconditions and is more invested in creating a reality on the ground. Therefore, Palestinians should focus on their strategies and the expansion of the Zionist project in the Palestinian territories, especially with the latest Israeli plans to annex parts of the West Bank, Jaqaman explained.