Palestine Pulse

Putin's critique of US peace plan gives Palestinians hope

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Article Summary
The Russian president's recent statements about the "deal of the century" have given Palestinians hope that Moscow will support the Palestinian cause and rights.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has added his voice to the chorus of negative comments about Washington's so-called deal of the century for peace between Palestinians and Israelis.

In an Oct. 13 interview with the Saudi al-Arabiya TV channel, Putin said in reference to the deal, which has yet to be made public officially but is thought to heavily favor Israel, “We need to know what it is about. The US has been pretty vague about the details of the deal. Washington has kept in the dark the global and domestic public, the Middle East, and Palestine.”

He added, “We believe it is important to ensure a two-state solution and establish the state of Palestine. We suggested hosting direct talks in Moscow between the Israeli prime minister and the head of the Palestinian Authority (PA), but the meeting never took place, unfortunately."

Russia believes that resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the key to settling many other regional issues, he said.

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Regarding reconciliation among Palestinian factions, Putin said, “We have been doing what we can. We have held several meetings between different Palestinian groups. Restoring Palestinian unity would be a major contribution to the process. Speaking with different voices undermines the united Palestinian stance.”

Putin's remarks came ahead of his Oct. 14-15 visit to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to discuss bilateral ties, which gave his statements on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict special importance. 

Saudi Arabia is seeking to promote the US plan due to the cordial relationship between President Donald Trump and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Palestinian Ambassador to Moscow Abdel Hafiz Nofal told Al-Monitor, “Putin's remarks on the deal of the century confirm that the reason behind the violence in the region is the unsolved Palestinian issue. Although Russia has strong relations with Israel because there are 1.5 million people who hail from the Soviet Union in Israel, it stresses the need to give Palestinians their rights. Russia's efforts to achieve reconciliation are ongoing, and although its relations with all Palestinian factions are good, it deems the PA as the legitimate party that represents Palestinians.”

In conjunction with Putin's remarks about the deal, Palestinian newspaper al-Quds cited Oct. 14 an undisclosed, "well-informed" US source as saying Washington is unlikely to disclose the deal in the next several months due to developments in the United States and Middle East.

These developments include Israel's failure to form a government after two elections in April and September, the Saudi involvement in the Yemen war and Iran's alleged attacks against Saudi Aramco oil facilities in September.

Add to those issues Trump's domestic problems: the impeachment inquiry, the US troop withdrawal from Syria, the US crisis with Iran and preparations for the US presidential election of 2020. Trump has a great deal to cope with and no time for Palestinian-Israeli peace efforts.

Ghassan al-Khatib, director of the Jerusalem Media and Communications Center and a former PA planning minister, told Al-Monitor there is still room at the negotiating table.

“Our support for Putin's statements doesn't mean that our interest now lies in moving away from exclusive US mediation to exclusive Russian mediation. We won’t turn our backs to the US to welcome the Russians. Washington is a superpower that cannot be overridden. We are seeking international mediation," Khatib said. "Putin's stance on the deal encourages us to keep rejecting it and helps us quell Saudi Arabia's enthusiasm. Russia’s calls for Palestinian factions to achieve reconciliation have fallen on deaf ears.”

Moscow has called on leaders of all Palestinian factions, without exception, to visit Russia. This led it to develop a wide network of relations with Palestinians, unlike Washington, which is hostile to Palestinian forces.

Of note, a Hamas delegation visited Russia in June 2018. That July, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine visited. Also that month, the director of the Palestinian Intelligence Service, Maj. Gen. Majid Faraj, came to Russia, and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas met with Putin in Moscow. A delegation from the Palestinian Islamic Jihad visited Russia in August 2018, and a PLO delegation visited in November.

So, even though Moscow's efforts failed to come to fruition during February reconciliation talks with Palestinian factions, Moscow remains very much in the game.

Hazem Qassem, a Hamas spokesman, told Al-Monitor, “National reconciliation is a Palestinian necessity, and Hamas is striving to achieve it and has cooperated with Russia in this regard. Putin's remarks further isolate Washington’s perception of the Palestinian cause because [the US administration] is against our national rights. Russia is invited to stand by Palestinian rights.”

Bassem Naim, a member of Hamas' international relations bureau and head of the Gaza-based Council on International Relations, told Al-Monitor, “Russia is a major power. If its president questions the [US] deal, this means the deal won’t work. We hope Russia will put forth an initiative to resolve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in accordance with international resolutions. Putin’s statement about reconciliation is a double-edged sword. It reflects an interest on the part of a superpower that has hosted several rounds [of talks] to accomplish reconciliation. But at the same time, Russia holds Palestinians accountable for the failure to achieve such reconciliation. A solution to the conflict with Israel must be preceded by internal reconciliation.”

Hussam al-Dajani, a political science professor at Ummah University in Gaza, told Al-Monitor, “Putin's remarks are a clear expression of his desire to fill the vacuum left by Washington in the Middle East through the Palestinian issue. The Russian president is seeking to increase the Russian influence in the region, and this meets the aspirations of both the PA and Hamas. Palestinians should take advantage of the state of polarization taking place between Washington and Moscow by pushing the latter to take the Palestinian side even though Russians have balanced positions and have strategic interests with Israel.”

This is one of the few times that all Palestinians agree on a specific issue. Putin's comments have united them, and they deem his words as a prelude to achieving internal reconciliation, breaking the US monopoly over the peace process and easing the Saudi pressure they are facing to accept the US peace proposal.

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Adnan Abu Amer heads the Political Science and Media Department of Umma University Open Education in Gaza, where he lectures on the history of the Palestinian cause, national security and Israel studies. He holds a doctorate in political history from Damascus University and has published a number of books on the contemporary history of the Palestinian cause and the Arab-Israeli conflict. He also works as a researcher and translator for a number of Arab and Western research centers and writes regularly for a number of Arab newspapers and magazines.

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