Quartet host Russia: A new broker for Israel peace?
Amid a US-Israel flap, some see an opportunity for Middle East Quartet host Russia to become a bigger player in Israel peace talks. Moscow has strong ties with both Israelis and Palestinians.
(Page 2 of 2)
In the past Russia has tried to establish a separate position from the US, notably in 2006 when then President Vladimir Putin infuriated Israel by initiating a dialog with the radical Palestinian faction Hamas, but Russian officials say the Kremlin is now only hoping for a supportive back-seat role in any upcoming negotiations.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
"Russia is a loyal member of the quartet, and we're not going to take any initiatives that haven't been agreed upon," says Mikhail Margelov, head of the foreign affairs commission of the Federation Council, Russia's upper house of parliament.
But, he adds, "it's high time for Russia and the US to think about positive things they can do together in the Middle East. This is not an area that is the 'back yard' of either country, so our basic interests do not clash as they would if the subject were Ukraine or, say, Venezuela. We have plenty of grounds for cooperation."
Netanyahu offers Clinton 'confidence-building measures'
Mrs. Clinton told journalists in Moscow that she'd talked Thursday night with Israel prime minister Netanyahu about his offer of "confidence-building measures" leading to renewed peace talks. She said the conversation was "very useful and productive," but added that "we don't believe unilateral action by any parties are helpful. We've made this clear."
Clinton said she expects to see Netanyahu in Washington next week. "We are all committed to the launching of proximity talks between the Israelis and Palestinians," she added.
Russian reconciliation with Jewish community, Israel
Russia has moved far toward reconciling with Israel since Soviet days, when Jewish emigration was restricted and Moscow armed Israel's Arab foes. Today's Russia trades with and even sells arms to Israel, while a thriving Russian Jewish community includes growing numbers of former emigrants who have returned to Russia after living in Israel.
"Russia today is far from the worst place for Jews to live," says Yevgeny Satanovsky, president of the independent Institute of Middle East Studies in Moscow. "There is still xenophobia here, yes, but compared with the Soviet Union things have really improved."
Some Russians say the large Russian-speaking community in Israel also provides some "soft power" leverage, or at least make Russia seem a credible and acceptable mediator in the region.
"There are 15 deputies of the Knesset [Israeli parliament] and 4 members of the current government cabinet who hail from the Russian-speaking community in Israel," says Mr. Margelov. "It's also true on the other side, that many Palestinians have been educated in Russian universities and speak Russian. We are well-placed to play a role here."
Russia ready to support strong US leadership – but skeptical
Some Russian experts say they doubt that, despite the current spat between Israel and the Obama administration, the US will offer any strong new leadership on the Middle East imbroglio.
"The US appears, to us, to be hostage to its long-term relationship with Israel, and doesn't seem capable of taking a clear new direction," says Alexei Pushkov, head of the Institute of Contemporary International Problems, a think tank that advises the Russian Foreign Ministry. "If the US would take the lead, Russia certainly seems to be ready to lend strong support. But many of us suspect that this Quartet meeting is just the same old diplomatic dance, leading nowhere."