Palestinians' Moscow embassy: A throwback to Arafat era

A massive Palestinian flag adorns the roof of a fancy villa situated on Embassy Street in Moscow.

A massive Palestinian flag adorns the roof of a fancy villa situated on Embassy Street in Moscow, not far from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs at Smolenskaya Square. Almost as obvious as the flag are two large, slightly faded photos of Yasser Arafat raising his hand in his idiosyncratic gesture, as if he were greeting the visitors. As the writing on the wall makes evident, this is the Embassy of Palestine in Moscow, which is ironically located in the very same house where in Petr Kropotkin, a well-known Russian revolutionary and anarchist, was born in 1842. Unlike Moscow's Israeli Embassy, the Palestinian Embassy is guarded nonchalantly, with just one Russian police officer standing at the building's entrance. "How many people come here on a daily basis?" I asked the police officer who looked noticeably bored. "It depends," he said. "On holidays, members of the Palestinian community usually come here, but sometimes we have just a few visitors a day." "Do you know if you can get a visa to Palestine here?" I asked. "I don't know really, I am just a guard," he said matter-of-factly. Meanwhile, I learned, one cannot obtain a Palestinian visa there, or at any other embassy of Palestine around the world. To visit the Palestinian territories you first need an Israeli visa. What is available at the Palestinian embassy in Moscow is a plethora of information on Israel, the Palestinian Authority and the overall situation in the Middle East. The information campaign starts at the embassy's gate where, along with Arafat's photos, a variety of photos is posted depicting Israeli cruelty against Palestinians. Special attention is given to the security barrier and its effect on the life of Palestinians in the West Bank. There are also photos galore illustrating the misery of common Palestinians stuck at checkpoints or arguing with Israeli soldiers. Immediately upon entrance to the building, symbols of Fatah abound. There are portraits of Arafat, PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and others as well as Palestinian flags. Interestingly, not a single photo of a Hamas leader or flag is to be found, despite this week's high-profile visit of a Hamas delegation to the Russian capital. Maybe there wasn't enough time to make all the necessary adjustments following last month's election. Embassy employees suspect that these changes will come. "I won't be surprised if in the future there is some kind of personnel change here," a Palestinian diplomat told The Jerusalem Post. "Moscow always was and even more so is now an important strategic point." It remains to be seen if the embassy change its colors before the visit of Ismail Haniya, who announced that his first international visit as prime minister would be to Russia. For the moment the building still belongs to a different era, of Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian architects of the Oslo process.