Abbas and Putin
Russian President Putin greets Palestinian President Abbas outside Moscow, Thursday, Jan. 23, 2014. Photo by AP
Text size

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas regretted placing too much trust in the Americans and urged the Syrian opposition to turn to Moscow instead for support, a Lebanese newspaper reported on Saturday, just days before Abbas' scheduled visit to Washington, D.C.

According to Al Akhbar, in meetings held with representatives of the Syrian opposition three years ago, Abbas said he regrets putting all his negotiating cards in the hands of the Americans. The report is based on documents and memos exchanged by PA delegates and representatives of the Syrian rebels' coordination committees during a series of meetings held in Paris.

Don't put all your "eggs in the Americans' basket," Abbas advised the then-head of the rebels' co-ordination committees Haythem Manna, imploring him not to make the same mistakes as the Palestinians did. "We made a mistake in placing our trust solely with the Americans, at a certain stage […] Don't make that mistake."

Abbas also implored the Syrian opposition delegates to turn to Moscow for support, rather than to the Americans. "I have more faith in the Russians," said Abbas, according to the report. "If they promise you seven apples you will get them all, while if the Americans promise a hundred you will get an empty box. The Americans make promises, but give nothing."
 
Abbas' partiality to the Russian leadership was evident in his recent trip to Moscow. In what was described as a coordination meeting, Abbas traveled to Moscow with chief Palestinian negotiator Dr. Saeb Arikat, where he met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to brief him on the progress of talks with Israel.

“Abbas’s visit takes place at the time when our talks with Israel are deadlocked,” said Nabil Shaath, Fatah's Commissioner of International Relations, in late January.

“Russia has played a huge role in reaching agreement with Iran and we are also seeing progress [in talks] on Syria. This brings us hope that the visit [of Abbas] will ensure progress in settling the Palestinian-Israeli issue,” Shaath said.

According to a senior Palestinian official, the meeting was aimed at enlisting Russia's support in dropping the Israeli demand for Palestinian recognition of a Jewish State, and in preventing the presentation of an American framework agreement draft as a document unanimously supported by all quartet parties.

The Russians, said the official, have supported the Palestinian position from the start, and it is therefore important they continue to be involved the picture.

Fatah officials who read the report Saturday said they were not surprised, adding that Abbas had said several times in the past he seeks international aid from other parties besides the U.S.

Meanwhile, a senior Palestinian official told Haaretz on Saturday that the Palestinian leadership is discussing its next steps in light of the little progress made in talks with Israel. "There are undoubtedly ideas to reset the compass so it's not pointing only to Washington, and to return the issue to the international stage," he said.

According to the official, the Americans have yet to present a written document for the framework agreement, yet its spirit is already clear: "The Palestinian cannot say yes to recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, the status of settlements or the borders."

Not taking sides

Al Akhbar also quoted senior Palestinian and Syrian officials who said that Abbas had attempted to act as a mediator between the Syrian government and the opposition from the crisis' very beginning.

Hamas, said Palestinian officials, made a mistake in placing their bets on the rebels, and predicting the downfall of Assad's rule.

The more calculated Abbas, the officials said, avoided such a misstep. A senior figure in the Syrian opposition, thought to be close to the Palestinian leader, also said that in Abbas' view,  a strong Syria - coupled with an Iran that is opening up to the West - could aid in support against Israeli provocations and U.S. pressure.

Abbas' estimation at the time was that if Assad's government implodes, the idea of a Palestinian state will collapse on its heels. He thus reinforced his ties with both sides of the Syrian conflict.
 
At the very start of the Syrian crisis Abbas considered it a primarily internal affair. But the acute crisis that erupted in the Palestinian refugee camps – El-Yarmuk primarily - forced the Palestinian leadership to intervene, and meetings were subsequently held between representatives of the PLO and Fatah with Assad and other Syrian government figures.

Palestinians representatives accused the armed militias –the Al-Qaida-affiliated Al-Nusra front especially – of taking advantage of the difficult conditions rampant in the camps to take control large parts of it, essentially turning local refugees into hostages.