(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Russia is planning to take a more active role in efforts to advance the Palestinian issue at the United Nations, diplomatic sources in New York estimate, following a recent speech by Russian President Vladimir Putin which touched on the subject.
"The humiliation and the oppression that the Palestinian people are going through are a source of danger and destabilization, and every step must be taken to eliminate the humiliation and oppression," Putin said over the weekend in a speech before the Valdai club, an annual gathering of experts in Moscow.
The Russian president also spoke out against settlement construction and said that the settlement enterprise constitutes "a cause increasing tension in the Middle East."
Putin has until now declined to respond to the stagnation in negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians and left it to the US to deal with the Middle East peace process. His comments in support of the Palestinian cause have piqued the interest of diplomats and analysts in New York.
"Putin, who almost never agrees to any diplomatic step initiated by US President Barack Obama is suddenly expressing understanding and sympathy to Obama's views on settlements," a senior western diplomat said Monday.
Putin's comments and the condemnation he voiced against settlement policy were understood in New York as an early expression of support for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas's initiative to win a UN Security Council vote for its resolution that would force Israel to withdraw from the West Bank within a given time frame in order to facilitate the establishment of a Palestinian state.
In the international community, Putin is thought of as a fan of Israel and the relations between Israel and Russia are considered good. When the US and EU condemned the annexation of Crimea and attacked Moscow for providing help to Ukrainian rebels, Israel was practically the only country that made a point to abstain from criticizing or protesting Russia - a silence that was met bitterly in Washington.
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At the UN in New York, Russia tends to support the Palestinians, and Moscow's voting pattern on Middle East subjects discussed in the General Assembly is always against Israel.
Israel is also worried about Russia's friendship and support for Iran, which has been clear during talks on Tehran's nuclear program with the P5+1 group of world powers, as a permanent member of the UN Security Council.
However, in contrast to the United States and other western nations, Russia has thus far consistently avoided direct involvement in the open and back channel diplomatic efforts to advance a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Putin's comments condemning the oppression of the Palestinians and attacks on Israel's settlement policy, sources in New York believe, signify a desire in Moscow to become an active presence in the efforts to renew the Middle East peace process.
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