RAMALLAH, West Bank — The Palestinian Authority is getting ready to welcome Russian President Vladimir Putin in Bethlehem Jan. 23. Putin is scheduled to meet with President Mahmoud Abbas and visit the Church of the Nativity and the President Putin Palestinian Organization for Culture and Economy, Palestinian Ambassador to Russia Abdel Hafiz Nofal told Al-Monitor.
Putin’s visit to the West Bank is part of a regional tour that will also include a stop in Israel to participate in the Holocaust commemoration events and the 75th anniversary of the Soviet forces’ liberation of detainees from Nazi concentration camps.
The PA hopes the talks between Abbas and Putin will strengthen Russian-Palestinian bilateral relations and develop economic and political cooperation between them. The PA also hopes to encourage Russia to play a bigger role in the peace process with Israel.
Nofal said that Putin’s visit is important in light of the political developments in the region, the escalating crisis between the PA and the United States and deadlocked peace prospects. The importance of the visit also stems from Russia’s support for the two-state solution, which the US administration is countering in a series of decisions violating international law such as recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and its legitimization of settlements in the West Bank. As the PA is banking on Russia’s support, Abbas will invite his Russian counterpart to play a key role in the peace process.
Palestinians have had deep-rooted ties with Russia since the opening of a representative office for the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) there 45 years ago. Russia recognized Palestine as a state 31 years ago and it supports the Palestinian people’s right to establish a state on the 1967 borders.
There has been a great deal of activity in the past two years to boost Palestinian trade and economic cooperation with Russia. On Nov. 22, the two governments signed a series of memorandums of understanding and other agreements in Moscow to develop trade and economic relations.
However, Palestinians are aware that Israel and Russia also have strong ties, and they do not expect Russia to ruin its relations with Israel for their sake. Nofal explained, “Good Israeli-Russian ties might serve the peace process by providing Russian or international sponsorship for it, as we reject the US sponsorship.”
He added that Russia’s political influence in the world is rising. He said, “We do not want Russia to fight for us, but we hope it will coordinate stances with the European Union regarding the peace process.”
Nofal indicated that Abbas will have several requests for Putin, mainly holding an international peace conference in cooperation with member states of the UN Security Council and finding an international formula for negotiations similar to that through which a nuclear agreement was reached with Iran.
Putin has called for a tripartite summit between himself, Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu several times. Putin might reiterate this call during his visit, as Abbas has repeatedly voiced his willingness to cooperate.
The general elections that the PA intends to hold will feature heavily in the Abbas-Putin talks, a Fatah source told Al-Monitor. Abbas will fill Putin in on efforts to hold the elections, including Israel ignoring the PA’s request to allow elections in East Jerusalem. Abbas will also seek Russia’s intervention to pressure Israel in this regard.
Head of strategic affairs for the Palestinian prime minister Ahmad Jamil Azm told Al-Monitor that Putin’s visit comes amid lack of significant international efforts regarding Palestinian affairs. Azm noted that Abbas will talk to Putin about holding a new international conference for the peace process that Russia and the international group would lead as well as the election.
He added, “Israeli-Russian relations are excellent, and Russia and the EU will be asked to pressure Israel to implement the agreements, specifically the Oslo Accords that require Israel to facilitate elections in Jerusalem and the West Bank.”
Azm noted, “Russia is not afraid of playing a bigger role in the peace process, but Israel and the US are also important parties to the process. Israel, which is the main obstacle to any political solution, won’t agree to any settlement. The PA will ask all countries to find a new mechanism for negotiations.”
Although Netanyahu has refused to meet Abbas after Russia called for a tripartite meeting, Palestinians are betting on cementing bilateral relations with Russia. With that, at least Russia would continue supporting a two-state solution and rejecting settlements in the West Bank. Abbas is scheduled to visit Russia in May to participate in the 75th Great Victory anniversary of the defeat of the Nazis in World War II, as part of the PA’s efforts to develop trade and economic ties with Russia.