Israel holds secret talks with Russia in bid to thwart recognition of Palestinian state
France, Germany and the U.K. are pushing for announcing a new international peace initiative which may include setting up two states on the basis of the 1967 borders.
Isaac Molho, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s senior adviser and top negotiator on the Palestinian channel, made a secret trip to Moscow on Wednesday and met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. The purpose of the visit was to dissuade Russia from supporting the European Union’s intention to present in two weeks’ time a plan for the establishment of a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders.
Molho was accompanied on the trip by the Foreign Ministry’s legal advisor, Daniel Taub, and spent over an hour with Lavrov. Taub and Molho also met with the Russian envoy to the Middle East, Sergei Yakovlev, and other senior Russian officials. A senior Israeli official told Haaretz that Taub and Molho used the visit “to present new Israeli ideas for re-launching the peace process with the Palestinians.”
The visit comes just two weeks before the foreign ministers of the Quartet − the United States, Russia, the European Union and the UN − are to meet. France, Germany and the United Kingdom are pushing for announcing a new international peace initiative. The principles of the initiative known so far include setting up two states on the basis of the 1967 borders with territorial swaps; a fair, realistic and agreed-upon solution to the predicament of the Palestinian refugees; Jerusalem as a capital for both states and security arrangements that would protect Israel but not infringe on Palestinian sovereignty.
Hague rules out interim agreements
U.K. Foreign Secretary William Hague said on Wednesday that interim arrangements alone cannot end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and progress must be made in the peace process before September. He also called on the United States and the rest of the Quartet to present clear principles for the process, based on the new initiative, as soon as possible.
The European initiative is strongly supported by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who is lobbying all members of the Quartet to have it officially endorsed in the upcoming meeting. However, Abbas has yet to confirm whether he will return to the negotiating table if the lobbying succeeds.
The U.S. administration has yet to comment on the initiative, but it has already won the support of the UN and, it would seem, Russia.
Last week, Netanyahu planned to dispatch Molho to a round of talks in London, Paris, Berlin and Brussels to persuade the Europeans to postpone the initiative’s launch. That trip was canceled at the last moment, after the prime minister understood Molho was unlikely to persuade the European governments to withdraw from the plan without new diplomatic statements on the peace process coming from Israel itself.
Molho’s Moscow trip appears to indicate that Netanyahu thought the Russians would prove more attentive to Israel’s objections, and could be persuaded to oppose or at least stall the move.
The results of Molho’s mission remain to be seen, but Lavrov’s statements during the meeting may mean Russia will be reluctant to block the initiative. Lavrov told Molho that continued efforts to find a way out of the impasse were important, and that trust between Israel and the Palestinians needed to be restored. Quartet envoys are expected to visit Israel next week, to prepare the foreign ministers’ summit. They will meet Molho and the Palestinian negotiators. Netanyahu is expected to meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Thursday in Berlin.