Palestinians playing up to Russia

Text of report by the website of government-owned Russian newspaper Rossiyskaya Gazeta on 21 September

[Report by Yevgeniy Shestakov: "Palestinians playing up to Russia"]

In many European countries discussion about a Mideast settlement are being greeted by the public with growing irritation.

That was the finding of public opinion polling. Everyone has gotten so fed up with the never-ending Middle Eastern ping-pong game between the Palestinian [National] Authority and Israel that, according to the polls, in a majority of countries in the Old World people just want one thing: an end to this decades-old negotiation marathon.

Whether intentionally or unintentionally, the Palestinians have been playing up to Russia at the UN General Assembly in New York. Their appeal for recognition of their autonomous area as a full-fledged state addressed to the General Assembly and Security Council is not just a pebble, it is a hefty rock thrown at the United States, which has always laid claim to a special role in any Mideast solution. But so far all of Washington’s efforts to reach a compromise in the Palestinian-Israeli standoff have ended the same way, with a demonstrative handshake between the high-level negotiating partners. That has in fact been the end of the solution, before it ever started to be practically implemented. As soon as the parties left the United States they would start pointing out numerous unsurmounted obstacles preventing them from complying with the agreements they had just reached. And each retiring US secretary of state would include in his memoirs a detailed description of how he almost solved the age-old conflict.

The authorities of the Palestinian Autonomy have been playing up to Russia, perhaps for the first time so publicly demonstrating to the whole world what they think of the United States’ recommendations. As well as of the White House’s thinking about its leading role in the "quartet" of Mideast intermediaries. Neither Washington, which has eagerly assumed the role of "first violin" on resolution issues, nor the European Union, which virtually always takes the American side in the "quartet," has been able to persuade Mahmoud Abbas to withdraw his bid to the UN to recognize an independent Palestinian state, even though they have repeatedly tried to do so. Against this backdrop Russia’s position has been very eloquent. Our country recognized Palestine back in 1989, opening its embassy in Moscow at that time. According to preliminary estimates, more than 120 states in the General Assembly are prepared to vote in favour of a Palestinian state. However, without UN Security Council support such a decision would not be legally formalized. The White House has warned that the United States’ representative will veto the Palestinian appeal. It is possible that the Americans will also force some European partners to publicly support their position through behind-the-scenes negotiation.

No matter what the outcome of the UN vote, after this kind of foreign policy failure neither the United States nor the European Union will be able to claim to be leading players in any future Mideast settlement. And Russia will have repeated opportunities at the General Assembly to remind its partners in the "quartet" about the Moscow Mideast conference that did not take place. We wanted to invite to it virtually all the states with influence on the situation in the region. But Israel and the United States came up with numerous excuses for indefinitely postponing that kind of full-format discussion. As a result the conference was never held.

There is no reason to view the Palestinians’ appeal to the UN General Assembly for independence as a gesture of desperation. The autonomy area has very clearly caught on to two trends that are typical of recent years: expansion of negotiating formats (for example, transitioning from "the eight" to "the twelve"), and a changing situation in the region, where the "Arab spring" has resulted in regime change in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya, as well as a serious weakening of Syria’s position.

No matter how the UN vote on the Palestinian issue turns out, the autonomy is counting on the White House voluntarily renouncing further leadership in any Mideast settlement. And it will engage new participants in the negotiations. It is possible that the most influential members of the Group of Twenty could be included, i.e. China, India and Brazil. A de facto recognition of Palestinian independence by the General Assembly could revive the Russian initiative to hold a Mideast conference in Moscow, but this time with an expanded list of participants and consideration for new political realities.

More time on the treadmill within the framework of the current "quartet" makeup threatens the complete stagnation of the entire negotiation process in the region. Simple appealing to Jews and Palestinians to continue their dialogue and achieve peace is impossible. There has long been talk of renewed war in the Middle East. It is well known that when the diplomats wash their hands, the cannons have their say.

Source: Rossiyskaya Gazeta website, Moscow, in Russian 21 Sep 11

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