Close ties with Russia stop Palestinians from taking sides in Ukraine war - analysis

PA President Mahmoud Abbas is still hoping that Russia would play a major role in any future peace process between the Palestinians and Israel.

 Russian President Vladimir Putin shakes hands with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas during their meeting in Sochi, Russia November 23, 2021. (photo credit: SPUTNIK/EVGENY BIYATOV/KREMLIN VIA REUTERS)
Russian President Vladimir Putin shakes hands with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas during their meeting in Sochi, Russia November 23, 2021.
(photo credit: SPUTNIK/EVGENY BIYATOV/KREMLIN VIA REUTERS)

The Palestinians, who often rush to express their views on various regional and international conflicts, have been careful not to take sides in the war between Russia and Ukraine.

The Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and Hamas in the Gaza Strip have long maintained good relations with Russia.

That’s why they have neither come out against the Russian invasion of Ukraine nor expressed any opinion about the conflict, at least not by Saturday night.

PA President Mahmoud Abbas is still hoping that Russia would play a major role in any future peace process between the Palestinians and Israel.

Late last year, Abbas held a phone conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Abbas reiterated the need for a political path to resolve the Palestinian issue “based on international legitimacy resolutions and the necessity of holding a meeting of the International Quartet Committee,” which consists of the US, the European Union, the UN and Russia.

 Fatah and Hamas officials wait for a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and representatives of Palestinian groups and movements as a part of an intra-Palestinian talks in Moscow, Russia February 12, 2019. (credit: PAVEL GOLOVKIN/POOL VIA REUTERS) Fatah and Hamas officials wait for a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and representatives of Palestinian groups and movements as a part of an intra-Palestinian talks in Moscow, Russia February 12, 2019. (credit: PAVEL GOLOVKIN/POOL VIA REUTERS)

Abbas’s appeal to Putin is consistent with his long-standing policy of trying to persuade the Russians to support his initiative to hold an international peace conference under the auspices of all the Quartet members, and not just the US alone, as has been the case in the past.

Disappointed by the “hesitancy” and “impotence” of the current US administration, Abbas and the PA leadership are hoping that Russia would agree to play a larger role in any future peace process with Israel. They do not want the US to have a monopoly over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict because of the PA-perceived US bias in favor of Israel.

Over the past few weeks, a growing number of officials in Ramallah have expressed disappointment with the failure of the US administration to fulfill its promises to the Palestinians, including the reopening of the US consulate in Jerusalem and exerting pressure on Israel to halt settlement construction in the West Bank.

Obviously, Abbas has no intention of taking a stance towards the Russia-Ukraine war for fear that such a move would strain the PA’s relations with Moscow and sabotage his efforts to convince Putin to play a significant role in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

On the first day of the war, PLO Executive Committee member Hussein al-Sheikh announced that he had a phone call with Russian Deputy of Foreign Affairs Minister Mikhail Bogdanov. At first glance, it appeared as if the senior Palestinian official – a possible successor to Abbas – discussed with the Kremlin’s top diplomat the crisis in Ukraine.

But Sheikh said in his statement that he discussed with Bogdanov the decisions of the Palestinian Central Council (PCC), which met in Ramallah earlier this month.

THE PCC decisions included among other things, the suspension of Palestinian recognition of Israel and a halt of security coordination between the PA security forces and the IDF in the West Bank.

Needless to say, the decisions, which are a copy of previous ones, are unlikely to be implemented by the PA.

“Mr. Bogdanov confirmed Russia’s position in supporting peace in accordance with the resolutions of international legitimacy and justice,” according to Sheikh.

The timing of the phone call may seem bizarre but it was clearly intended to send a message to the Russians that the PA does not want the Ukraine crisis to affect its relations with Putin.

On the other hand, the PA leadership does not want to cause any harm to the 2,500 Palestinians in Ukraine by taking sides in the conflict.

On Friday, PA Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh phoned the Palestinian ambassador to Ukraine to inquire about the conditions of the Palestinian community there. Shtayyeh said in a statement that the PA was ready to provide all necessary aid to the Palestinian community. However, he did not make any reference to the Russian invasion.

Similarly, Hamas has also been careful not to take sides in the Russia-Ukraine war.

Like the PA, the Hamas leadership is also keen on preserving its good relations with Moscow, especially in light of the group’s increasing isolation in the international arena.

Late last year, a senior Hamas delegation headed by Musa Abu Marzouk and Izzat al-Risheq met in Moscow with Bogdanov and top officials from the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Russia had previously hosted meetings officials from Abbas’s ruling Fatah faction and Hamas as part of an effort to end the rivalry between the two parties. Hamas leaders have visited Moscow several times over the past 14 years, and they too have no intention of letting the Ukraine crisis burn the bridge between their group and Russia.

That’s why Hamas was quick on Saturday to deny a statement attributed to Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal. According to the statement, Mashaal reportedly said that Putin “must halt his invasion of Ukraine and the killing of civilians.”

Concerned that the alleged statement would alienate Putin, the Hamas leadership denied the “fabricated” remarks attributed to Mashaal. “Mashaal did not make any statement to any media outlet regarding the Ukrainian crisis,” said a Hamas spokesperson.

The only Hamas official to comment on the Russia-Ukraine crisis was Abu Marzouk, who wrote on Twitter that the lesson of the war was that the era of America’s status as unipolar superpower has ended.

The US, the Hamas official argued, “was unable to take the decision of war in the face of Russia.”

Abu Marzouk added: “Those who can’t decide on war can’t be decision-makers on international politics. This is where we can talk about the future of the Zionist entity.”