Russia Elbows Its Way into the Israel-Palestinian Conflict

July 31, 2020 | Oved Lobel
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Around the time of its intervention in Syria, Moscow began offering itself as an arbiter in the conflict between the Jewish state and the Palestinians, in 2016 offering to host Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Palestinian Authority (PA) president Mahmoud Abbas for a summit in Moscow. More recently, the Kremlin has been trying to broker an agreement between Abbas’s Fatah faction and the Hamas regime in Gaza, and reportedly had a hand in the rival groups’ joint press conference earlier this month. Oved Lobel comments:

While maintaining good ties with Israel, Russia [has] upped the ante in the Palestinian sphere, hosting a summit in Moscow in February 2019 with senior representatives of all the primary Palestinian factions, including Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ). Although it failed to force Hamas and PIJ to sign onto its “Moscow Declaration” of Palestinian unity under the [Fatah-controlled] PLO’s political program, it kicked off much deeper ties with all the factions.

Direct contacts with the PIJ, an explicit Iranian terrorist proxy . . . that Russia reportedly once designated a terrorist organization, seem to be an outgrowth of the vacuum left by the U.S. . . . The first open meeting with PIJ leadership occurred in 2018 in Moscow, less than two months after a Hamas delegation visit. PIJ leadership most recently visited Moscow in March 2020, as did the Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh.

Russia has a long history with the Palestinians, using them as terrorist proxies and agents in a variety of conflicts across the world during the cold war. It is therefore well-placed to fill the diplomatic vacuum with their former PLO contacts, including Mahmoud Abbas himself, who was very close to Moscow and allegedly recruited as a KGB agent in the 1980s.

The purpose of Russian moves is not primarily to achieve Palestinian unity under the PLO political program, as it constantly asserts—it knows very well this is likely impossible. Rather, sensing an opportunity to increase influence with all players at the perceived expense of the U.S., Russia is just trying to plant itself in the middle of the conflict and make itself an essential player, as it has done in numerous conflict zones across the region.

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