Russia Grabs Mideast Peace Initiative From U.S. With Talks Offer
Palestinian flags stand in the Jordan Valley, West Bank. (Photographer: Kobi Wolf/Bloomberg)

Russia Grabs Mideast Peace Initiative From U.S. With Talks Offer

(Bloomberg) -- Russia is bidding to rescue the collapsing Israel-Palestinian peace process with a proposal for a meeting of major foreign and Middle Eastern powers.

Russia is in contact with the U.S., European Union and United Nations to organize a meeting soon of their Quartet of Middle East peace mediators, with the possible involvement of the Arab League and Arab states, the Foreign Ministry said on Thursday in a website statement. It’s also been in communication with Israel and the Palestinians.

Moscow’s stated goal is to re-establish direct Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, and its talks offer comes at a difficult juncture. The formation of a permanent Israeli government this week has freed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to act on his vow to annex some of the West Bank territory the Palestinians view as the heart of their hoped-for state.

The U.S. traditionally has been the main broker of peace negotiations, but the Palestinians cut off most ties with the Trump administration after it recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in late 2017. The administration’s Middle East peace plan unveiled in January only cemented that rift, in part by endorsing Israel’s annexation of about 30% of the West Bank.

Russia’s growing clout in the region has benefited from a diminishing U.S. presence under President Donald Trump.

The office of Israel’s prime minister made no immediate comment on the Moscow initiative, first reported without official confirmation by Israel’s Channel 13 on Wednesday. The Palestinians are open to joining Russian-brokered talks if invited, a senior Palestinian official said earlier.

Palestinians Open

Saeb Erekat, the secretary general of the Palestine Liberation Organization, said he told the Russians that the offer of talks would be acceptable as long as negotiations don’t diverge from previous parameters. Israel and the Palestinians negotiated for more than 20 years before the last round of talks collapsed in 2014, and had identified core issues including the future borders of Israel and a Palestinian state, the status of contested Jerusalem and resolution of the Palestinian refugee issue.

While the U.S. is a member of the Quartet, its other members would provide a counterbalance, having already denounced the annexation plan.

The Palestinians this week announced that its past agreements with Israel, including on security coordination, were null and void. They have made such threats before.

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