Good Relations with Hamas Advance Moscow’s Desire for Involvement in the Israel-Palestinian Conflict

Feb. 14 2019

Although an official visit to the Kremlin by Ismail Haniyeh, Hamas’s senior leader, has been postponed, the Russian foreign ministry has made clear that it will host him another time. And Haniyeh’s intended visit should come as no surprise, since his predecessor, Khaled Meshal, was a regular guest in Moscow. Micky Aharonson explains how staying on cordial terms with the terrorist group fits into Russia’s broader Middle East strategy.

Unlike the United States and the European Union, Russia doesn’t regard Hamas as a terrorist organization. Russia’s stance is that Hamas’s rule in Gaza is legitimate since the organization was democratically elected. . . . Just several weeks ago, Russia voted against a U.S. proposal in the UN to condemn Hamas terrorist activities. Moscow then went a step farther by actively seeking to broker talks between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority.

Russia’s stance regarding Hamas is based on a general strategy of bolstering anti-Western movements, especially those that are anti-American. This approach dates back decades, to when the USSR supported [America’s adversaries] in Vietnam and Afghanistan. This policy reflects Russia’s “zero-sum-game” [rationale that], wherever the U.S. is present, Russia is by default excluded. Wherever Russia can increase its influence, U.S. influence must therefore be reduced. Indeed, Russia is making headway in regions and countries where the U.S. is in the process of shrinking its involvement, [such as] Libya and Syria. . . .

Another reason for Russia’s support of Hamas is Moscow’s longstanding desire to take a leading role in resolving the Israel-Palestinian conflict. As an interim measure, Russia is working to promote intra-Palestinian reconciliation among the various factions. . . . Moscow views its roles in intra-Palestinian and Israel-Palestinian affairs as important to strengthening its position in the Arab and Muslim worlds. . . .

After meeting in June 2018 with Mousa Abu Marzouk, the deputy chairman of the Hamas politburo, the Russian deputy foreign minister Mikhail Bogdanov announced that Moscow would not [accept] the anticipated Trump administration peace plan, . . . but instead advance plans of its own. [This decision] serves the interests of both the Palestinian Authority and Hamas. Russia is [likewise] trying to focus the international community’s attention on the Israel-Palestinian conflict, arguing that a solution to the conflict is crucial to the stability of the entire Middle East.

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Read more at Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security

More about: Hamas, Israel & Zionism, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Russia

The Impossibility of Unilateral Withdrawal from the West Bank

Feb. 19 2019

Since throwing his hat into the ring for the Israeli premiership, the former IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz has been reticent about his policy plans. Nonetheless, he has made clear his openness to unilateral disengagement from the West Bank along the lines of the 2005 withdrawal from Gaza, stating the necessity of finding “a way in which we’re not controlling other people.” Gershon Hacohen argues that any such plan would be ill-advised:

The political and strategic precepts underlying the Oslo “peace” process, which Gantz echoes, vanished long ago. The PLO has unequivocally revealed its true colors: its total lack of interest in peace, unyielding rejection of the idea of Jewish statehood, and incessant propensity for violence and terrorism. . . . Tehran is rapidly emerging as regional hegemon, with its tentacles spreading from Yemen and Iraq to the Mediterranean Sea and its dogged quest for nuclear weapons continuing apace under the international radar. Even the terror groups Hizballah and Hamas pose a far greater threat to Israel’s national security than they did a decade ago. Under these circumstances, Israel’s withdrawal from the West Bank’s Area C, [the only part still under direct Israeli control], would constitute nothing short of an existential threat.

Nor does Israel need to find a way to stop “controlling other people,” as Gantz put it, for the simple reason that its control of the Palestinians ended some two decades ago. In May 1994 the IDF withdrew from all Palestinian population centers in the Gaza Strip. In January 1996 it vacated the West Bank’s populated areas (the Oslo Accords’ Areas A and B), comprising over 90 percent of the West Bank’s Palestinian residents, and handed control of that population to the Palestinian Authority (PA). . . .

This in turn means that the real dispute between Israel and the Palestinians, as well as within Israel itself, no longer revolves around the end of “occupation” but around the future of eastern Jerusalem and Area C. And since Area C (which is home to only 100,000 Palestinians) includes all the Jewish West Bank localities, IDF bases, transportation arteries, vital topographic sites, and habitable empty spaces between the Jordan Valley and the Jerusalem metropolis, its continued retention by Israel is a vital national interest. Why? Because its surrender to a potentially hostile Palestinian state would make the defense of the Israeli hinterland virtually impossible—and because these highly strategic and sparsely populated lands are of immense economic, infrastructural, communal, ecological, and cultural importance, not to mention their historical significance as the bedrock of the Jewish ancestral homeland

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Read more at BESA Center

More about: Benny Gantz, Israel & Zionism, Two-State Solution, West Bank