Palestinians hopeful of Russia peace talks support

Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, shakes hands with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas during their meeting at the Kremlin in Moscow on Monday. (AFP)
Updated 14 February 2018
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Palestinians hopeful of Russia peace talks support

AMMAN: The Palestinian Authority is optimistic that Russia’s rivalry with the US will help it counter American influence over the stagnant Middle East peace process after the two sides held talks in Moscow this week.
Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas met his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on Monday as he sought backing from one of the few countries powerful enough to challenge US support for Israel over the status of Jerusalem and other key issues central to any final peace deal.
No partnership was formally agreed but behind closed doors Palestinian officials remain cautiously hopeful that Moscow’s race with Washington for strategic supremacy over the wider region could yet play into their hands.
After the talks Abdel Hafiz Nofal, the PA’s ambassador to Russia, attended a dinner hosted by Putin and he told Arab News that representatives from the two sides had “good and deep discussions” about a variety of subjects.
“The Middle East is very important to the Russians and we are optimistic about this process but it will not be easy,” he said.
Monday’s talks occurred two months after US President Donald Trump formally recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, overturning decades of diplomatic convention and provoking condemnation from most of the international community.
In response, the Palestinians have begun to look for new allies to co-sponsor any future peace talks and counter Washington’s close working relationship with Tel Aviv. Publicly at least, Putin offered no guarantees in this week’s meeting but the PA continues to believe there is scope for some kind of mutually beneficial agreement.
Speaking in Moscow, Abbas said the “atmosphere created” by Trump’s controversial decision had left him with little choice but to look elsewhere for diplomatic support.
“We ask that the United States be not the only mediator but just one of the mediators,” he said.
Meanwhile, Putin told Abbas the “situation is far from what we want to see” and added that he has “always supported the Palestinian people”.
After the talks the Palestinian media reported that Abbas provided his Russian counterpart with a summary of his troubled attempts to engage the US in dialogue since Trump entered the White House in January 2017.
Last November the State Department threatened to close the office of the Palestine Liberation Organization in Washington in response to Palestinian efforts to take the issue of Israel’s occupation to the International Criminal Court. The US later reversed its decision, only for Trump to then announce that he intended to move the American embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Jerusalem is a particularly emotive issue for Arabs and Muslims worldwide and previous US administrations have ordinarily regarded it is a matter that can only be decided as part of a final peace deal that also addresses other key issues such as the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homeland and the fate of Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank - townships that are considered illegal under international law.
In a Dec. 21 vote at the UN, 128 countries including Russia, Saudi Arabia, the UK, France and Germany condemned the US president’s announcement. Only nine countries backed it, among them Israel, Guatemala and Micronesia.
Prior to Monday’s talks Putin received a phone call from Trump in which the US president told him they should all “work toward an enduring peace agreement,” according to a White House statement. However, the Palestinians see little hope of that while America is calling all the shots.
Hazm Al Mazouni, a Russian-speaking Syrian journalist based in Amman, told Arab News that Monday’s talks need to be seen in a broader regional context, with Moscow increasingly confident that it can roll back US strategic influence in the Middle East.
In September 2015 Russia began a military campaign in Syria, carrying out air strikes in support of the beleaguered government of President Bashar Al-Assad. The move helped alter the course of the civil war there, wresting momentum from US-sponsored rebels.
“A look at the Russian approach in Syria shows that it wants a bigger role in confronting the US and in pursuing its policies in the region,” said Al Mazouni.


Syrian Kurdish-led council visits Damascus for new talks

Updated 1 min 58 sec ago
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Syrian Kurdish-led council visits Damascus for new talks

  • A delegation including members of the US-backed SDF held talks with Damascus earlier this month
  • The visits highlight efforts by the Kurdish-led authorities to open new channels to President Bashar Assad’s government

BEIRUT: The political wing of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) has been to Damascus for a second round of talks with the state, the pro-government Al-Watan newspaper said on Tuesday.
A delegation including members of the US-backed SDF, which controls roughly a quarter of Syria, held talks with Damascus earlier this month, their first declared visit to the capital.
The visits highlight efforts by the Kurdish-led authorities to open new channels to President Bashar Assad’s government, as they seek to negotiate a political deal that keeps their autonomy within Syria.
The SDF is spearheaded by the Kurdish YPG militia, which has mostly avoided conflict with Assad and says its aim has been to secure Kurdish rights rather than topple the government.
This has set them apart from rebel factions fighting to topple Assad since 2011, which have now been defeated in much of the territory they once held.
The Syrian Democratic Council (SDC) went for new talks on local administation and decentralization, Al-Watan cited its co-chair Riad Darar as saying on Tuesday.
“All the discussions happening now are ... to find out the other side’s point of view,” he said. The talks “need a lot of reflection to make decisions, and so the matter was left to other meetings.”
Such negotiations could raise new questions for US policy in Syria, where the US military has deployed into SDF territory during the battle against Islamic State.
The SDF seized swathes of land with US help, though Washington opposes their aim of regional autonomy. The region they control spreads across much of northern and eastern Syria, rich in farmland, oil, and water.
Damascus says the US forces are occupiers. For the first time, Assad said in May that he was “opening doors” for talks with the SDF, but also threatened force and said the Americans would leave one way or another.