January 29, 2017

Will Russia succeed in brokering Palestinian unity?

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (C) meets with representatives of the Palestinian political parties and movements in Moscow, on January 16th. (AP)

The main Palestinian factions of Fatah and Hamas, following reconciliation talks brokered by Russia in Moscow, have agreed to form a national unity govern­ment.
Elections would follow the formation of a unity government and a national council, which would include exiled Palestinians. Representatives of Islamic Jihad and other small factions were also at the talks but it is not clear whether they would have a role in the proposed government.
Islamic Jihad tries to avoid engaging in partisan politics and does not take part in elections but its leaders do receive financial sup­port from Iran, which may explain why they were invited by Moscow, Tehran’s ally in the region.
“Today the conditions for (such an initiative) are better than ever,” said senior Fatah official Azzam al-Ahmad.
Indeed, with the new US ad­ministration of President Donald Trump poised to be more pro-Is­raeli than its predecessor, the Pal­estinians may have no option but to look towards Russia for help.
However, the Palestinians may not be seeking a Russian role that would counter the American one but rather influence it as there is an assumption that Trump would be more open to listening to Mos­cow than previous US presidents.
Fatah and Hamas representa­tives have asked for Russia’s help to dissuade Trump from moving the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
The officials also expressed dis­satisfaction with the Quartet — the United States, Russia, the Euro­pean Union and United Nations — which is working on resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“Russia can play a substantial role” in the region, said senior Ha­mas official Mousa Abu Marzook.
Recent weeks have been very bleak for the Palestinians. The Paris conference on peace in the Middle East was a failure, as Israel was unwilling to engage in it. The UN Security Council met to discuss Israel’s latest plan to expand Jewish settlements on Palestinian territories but failed to condemn it.
Not only did the Trump administration decline to criticise Israel’s expansion plans, the US State Department said it was reviewing a decision made by Barack Obama’s administration to release $220 million to the Palestinians.
From the Palestinians’ perspec­tive, things are moving from bad to worse. “We must not have the wrong impression that Obama was somehow good to the Palestin­ians,” said Ahmed al-Burai, a lec­turer at Istanbul Aydin University.
“On the contrary, he increased financial and military aid to Israel and vetoed six UNSC [UN Security Council] resolutions because they were critical of Israeli policies towards the Palestinians.”
So it is understandable why the Palestinians would turn to Mos­cow. However, the real question remains: Are the Russians willing or even able to help?
Amid a US withdrawal, Russia is trying to increase its influence in the Middle East but that does not mean that Moscow’s interventions would serve anyone’s interests other than its own. Let us not for­get that Russia is an ally of Israel.
The local, regional and even international factors preventing Fatah-Hamas reconciliation are complicated and intertwined.
Russia’s involvement in that mix might further delay focusing on the root issues.

11