Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (R) greets his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin at the Palestinian Authority headquarters in the West Bank city of Bethlehem on January 23. (Alaa Badarneh/Pool/AFP via Getty Images)

Putin Visit to Bethlehem, Planned Abbas Trip to Moscow, Buoy Palestinian Hopes (with VIDEO)

Ashrawi: Russia can balance the hostility and destructive role of the US, and perhaps shift the discourse when it comes to Palestine

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, responding to an invitation from Russian President Vladimir Putin, said he would visit Moscow in May. The announcement was made at a meeting between Putin and Abbas in Bethlehem on Thursday.

Putin made a quick stop to the holy city in the southern West Bank in conjunction with his visit to Jerusalem, 4 miles to the north, to take part in the Fifth World Holocaust Forum, marking 75 years since the liberation of Auschwitz by the Red Army.

The Russian president arrived in Bethlehem with a large delegation – close to 200 people, including Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

Palestinians view their friendly relations with Russia with great importance, and they hope it will lead to Moscow playing a bigger role in the peace process.

The Palestinian Authority has been boycotting the Trump Administration since December 2017, following the US president’s announcement that he would recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. His declaration was followed in May 2018 by the formal opening a US Embassy in the city.

Since then, Palestinian leaders have insisted that Washington can no longer be the sole mediator between them and Israel.

Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the PLO’s Executive Committee, told The Media Line that Moscow and other global powers should fill the void.

“The Palestinians look at the visit of Putin as being important because they seem to think that within a global balance, Russia can balance the hostility and destructive role of the US and perhaps can shift the discourse when it comes to Palestine.”

Moscow has consistently supported the two-state solution. Back in 1988, Russia recognized Palestine as a state along the pre-1967 borders.

Abbas wants Putin to be directly involved in jumpstarting the peace process, the Palestinians being fully aware of the strong ties between Russia and Israel.

Ashrawi says this can help.

“We understand that Russia has its own configurations in the region, its own priorities, its own balancing system, its own relations with Israel, and the whole issue of the [large, recently discovered deposits of natural] gas in the Middle East,” she told The Media Line.

“We are not naïve,” she continued. “We know that they are here because they want to remind us that they are here and [that] they can play a political role and [that] they have interests in the region. But at the same time, we haven’t seen any political role materialize that can put an end to the dangerous regression and a situation that is hurtling toward the abyss without anyone stopping it.”

Last September, Abbas called for legislative and presidential elections to be held for Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem. Palestinian leaders have said they will ask Russia to exert pressure on Israel to allow Palestinians residing in Jerusalem to vote.

The PA president has said several times that he would be willing to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu under the auspices of Putin.

Mustafa Barghouti, secretary-general of the Palestinian National Initiative, a political party, told The Media Line that Abbas should ask one question.

“The Europeans, the Russians, everybody was talking about a two-state solution for decades, but it’s obvious now that Israel is killing the two-state solution,” he said. “The question that should be directed from the PA to these people is: What you are going to do about Israel’s violations of human rights and international law?”

Barghouti argues that the international community does not hold Israel to the same standards as others.

“[I am] totally dissatisfied and disappointed, and this opinion will not change unless I see serious pressure on Israel,” he said. “Serious pressure means divestment [and] sanctions. Many countries have committed much less [serious] violations of human rights and international law, and they have been subjected to sanctions, including Russia. Why is Israel allowed to be above international law?”

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