Having Lost Faith in U.S. Peace Efforts, Palestinian Leadership Turns to Russia

Fatah official Nabil Sha'ath meets Russia's foreign minister to discuss Trump's Jerusalem declaration ■ Palestinian President Abbas to meet France's Macron in Paris

Palestinian official Nabil Sha'ath meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on December 19, 2017.
Vasily Maximov/AFP

As part of Palestinian efforts to find an international alternative to American mediation efforts on the Israeli-Palestinian issue, the Palestinian Authority is aiming to get Russia more actively involved.

Haaretz has learned that Nabil Sha’ath, the Fatah official responsible for foreign relations and adviser to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, met Tuesday in Moscow with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and discussed U.S. President Donald Trump’s declaration two weeks ago recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

During their conversation, Sha’ath raised the ramifications of Trump’s declaration and developments thereafter in the Palestinian, Arab and international arenas. According to a senior Palestinian official, Sha’ath conveyed Abbas’ message that the Palestinian leadership has lost all confidence in American sponsorship and is seeking other countries like Russia, China and France to take a more central role in making proposals or shepherding diplomatic moves.

Palestinians note that Russia had always supported the Palestinian position on the two-state solution but understood that Israel wouldn't willingly transfer responsibility for the diplomatic process to Moscow or any other European capital. On the other hand, the Palestinians argue, Russian involvement in the Middle East is far more significant now than it was in the 1990s during the Oslo process and has cards to play that could bring pressure to bear on Israel.

In this context, Ramallah officials stress Russia’s intense involvement in Syria and its network of ties to Iran, which has also become a dominant presence in the region as the sponsor of Hezbollah in Lebanon and an open supporter of Hamas and radical Palestinian factions. “There’s no doubt the Russia’s involvement in the region has become more significant and dominant and Israel can’t ignore it. Anyone who doesn’t see that the United States is actually abandoning the Middle East while the Russians are more involved is blind,” a senior Palestinian official told Haaretz.

Abbas, meanwhile, is flying Thursday to Paris, where he will meet French President Emmanuel Macron in an effort to recruit him to an international effort to respond to the Trump declaration. Abbas will arrive in Paris after meetings in Saudi Arabia with King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. A Palestinian source close to Abbas said the meetings in Riyadh had been requested by the Saudis in the wake of Trump’s declaration. The Palestinian leadership is refusing to meet with Trump envoy Jason Greenblatt, who is in Israel meeting with Israeli officials.

The issue of Jerusalem is to be debated Thursday by the General Assembly, which is expected to approve the Egypt-sponsored resolution against Trump's declaration that was vetoed Monday in the Security Council by the United States.

On Wednesday hundreds of Palestinians demonstrated in anticipation of Thursday’s UN vote. The demonstrations began in the afternoon and were reportedly focused on the checkpoints at Qalandiya, Beit El, Tul Karm, Hebron and Bethlehem. Fatah is continuing to call for “day of rage” demonstrations, which are expected to continue at least till the weekend.

The Palestinian Health Ministry said that Palestinian hospitals on Wednesday treated 16 people wounded in confrontations with the Israeli security forces. Since the protests began after Trump’s declaration, eight Palestinians have been killed and more than 350 were wounded, eight seriously.