By: Ilana Messika
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met Monday with Mikhail Bogdanov, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s Special Envoy for the Middle East, to discuss a potential resumption of the Israeli-Palestinian Peace Process.
All parties have agreed to meet in Moscow on the heels of Putin’s repeated calls this year to take a leading role in Israeli-Palestinian talks. In March, Putin told the Arab League that Russia would fight for an independent Palestinian state, and last month told Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi that Moscow would like to host the next round of talks.
A spokesperson for Prime Minister Netanyahu said Israel is currently considering the Russian president’s proposal and the timing of a possible meeting in Russia. The pair also discussed the possibility of coordinating a post-summit meeting between the Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
Prime Minister Netanyahu has stressed that he is prepared to meet with President Abbas directly and without preconditions as long as the latter was ready to do the same, but the Palestinian Authority has consistently set a series of conditions before returning to face-to-face talks with Israel.
Interested in Israeli-Palestinian issue
“The Russian Federation has been interested in the Israeli-Palestinian process for a very long time because it has represented a unifying and consensual issue throughout the Arab-Muslim world since 1948,” said Zvi Magen, an Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) Senior Research Fellow and a former Israeli ambassador to Russia, told Tazpit Press Service (TPS).
In addition to currying favor with the Arab world, Magen said Russia has an additional interest in becoming involved with Israel-Palestinian negotiations: its image in the west.
“Russia estimated its involvement in Syria was not enough to redress its standing with the West, which it attempts to achieve in order to earn enough leverage and ‘brownie points’ to debate the heavy sanctions that were imposed since the war in Ukraine, causing important internal destabilization.
“In truth, Putin does not have any interest in the results of this initiative per se, but rather because [involvement with] the process would give him international credibility and give him control over regional assets to use as leverage towards Russia’s global hegemony,” he explained.
Russia’s current involvement in the Middle East dates to September 2015, when Moscow expanded its limited presence in the civil war in Syria. Last April, Putin claimed that he would not pulling out Russian forces out of Syria despite prior claims to the contrary.
Also Monday, US President Barack Obama met with Putin to discuss issues related to Syria: reducing violence against civilians, providing humanitarian aid and cooperating on combating militant groups.
US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov are also meeting to negotiate a ceasefire agreement, which remains hitherto unsuccessful.
“Russia and Israel have an understanding with regards to Syria” claimed Magen. “Russia will not interfere with Israel’s defense of its borders against Iranian proxies, including disrupting weapons transfers to Hezbollah through Syria, and Israel will not impede any Russian military dealings in favor of Assad.”
“When Russia looks at the Middle East, it doesn’t see many stable areas besides Israel,” said Dr. Ofer Israeli, an international defense policy expert at the Interdisciplinary Center, Herzliya, previously explained to TPS. “So from a Russian perspective, Israel is relatively predictable and can be coordinated with, which is in Russia’s interests.”
On whether he thinks the rapprochement of Israel towards the Russian Federation will jeopardize Israeli-American relations, Magen said, “Israel is not actively trying to replace the US, there is no ‘instead.’ The same questions are also being asked of the Saudis and the Jordanians, all of whom are successfully talking with Russia.
The fact is that US has a specific retrenchment policy with regards to the region and has as a consequence lost several partners. This is free game theory.”