Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
(photo credit: GPO)
In a statement released on Monday, the Prime Minister’s Office said that Benjamin Netanyahu was reviewing a Russian proposal to hold a meeting in Moscow with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. “The prime minister presented Israel’s position that he is always ready to meet with President Abbas directly and without preconditions,” the statement said.
A report by The Jerusalem Post’s diplomatic correspondent Herb Keinon noted that the idea for a Moscow meeting followed a visit by Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to Russia, and a phone call between Netanyahu and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Mikhail Bogdanov, the Russian special envoy to the region, visited Ramallah on Tuesday, and spoke with Sputnik News about progress of the Russian role.
“We are grateful to the head of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, for his agreement in principle with President Putin’s proposal,” Bogdanov said. “We continue to maintain contacts and to consult with both parties to reach an agreement on the form, content and date of the meeting.”
The report said there was a chance for a meeting sometime this month.
The increased interest of Russia in the peace process builds on a long history of Russian relations with the Jewish state. Russia is a member of the Quartet, the diplomatic mission that also includes the EU, the US and the UN, which was established in 2002. It is also part of Russia’s interests in the Middle East as it continues to play an increasing role in the region, particularly in Syria where it fights on behalf of Bashar Assad’s regime. Putin recently mended fences with Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and Russia also briefly used an Iranian air base in August to launch air strikes in Syria.
All of this puts Israel in a precarious position. With Russia playing a larger role in the region, it has sway over multiple parties like Syria and Iran. This effects Israel’s security. For instance, Israel and Russia have had discussions about Russia’s use of Syrian airspace.
Israel is, of course, closely monitoring what is happening on its northern Golan border, where it fears Iranian encroachment and threats from Hezbollah.
There is evidence that Netanyahu has good relations with Putin, more so than he has been seen to have with US President Barack Obama. That might give Netanyahu a reason to view Moscow as a new and welcome mediator, considering his rocky relationship with Obama. Nevertheless, we believe that it is imperative that Israel’s relations with the US remain paramount, and that includes the US role in the peace process. Israel and the US share deep relations based on a long historical alliance, shared values, security ties and personal bonds between many in the two countries.
With two months to go before presidential elections in the US, and four months until a new president is sworn in, it is essential that Israel mend fences with the current administration. This includes finalizing a new deal for foreign military aid to Israel. Supporters of Israel in the US are pushing for the deal to be closed before elections.
We agree. Finalizing the deal with Obama would send a message to the American people that Israel is a bipartisan issue and receives support from a bigger swath of the American people. Obama is a progressive president, and if he signs the deal it would symbolize more buy-in from a wider spectrum of Americans.
This doesn’t mean that Israel should neglect its ties with Russia. On the contrary. What would be wise is for Israel to build on the unique role Moscow has in the region to moderate and stabilize the countries that pose a security risk to Israel. Putin has sway over Assad as well as the Islamic regime in Iran, and ties with Moscow should continue to be cultivated to serve Israel’s greater security interests.
But given all that the US relationship means, it would be unwise for Israel to appear to be choosing Russia as its sole strategic partner.