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.
As the Middle East Quartet met in Moscow today amid high US-
Israel tensions, some see an opportunity for host Russia to return
as a key player in Israel peace talks with the Palestinians.
Unlike the cold war past, when the Soviet Union backed the Arabs
and the US supported Israel, experts say that Moscow and Washington
appear to be increasingly on the same page about the way forward in
managing the long-running conflict, and the present situation offers
a fresh opportunity to work together toward a common goal.
Russia, which has forged good relations with Israel in the post-
Soviet period, still maintains strong links with the Palestinians,
which might prove useful in nudging them toward the bargaining
"Israel has no fear that its main friend, the US, will ever
abandon it, but the Palestinians worry very much about being
isolated," says Viktor Kremeniuk, deputy director of the official
Institute of USA-Canada Studies in Moscow. "The Palestinians need to
feel that someone is in their corner, and Russia is well-positioned
to play that role."
After Friday's meeting, top diplomats of the Quartet - including
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon, US Secretary of State
Hillary Clinton, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, European
Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, and special
representative Tony Blair - condemned Israel's "unilateral"
construction plans in a joint statement.
They also called for negotiations that would end Israel's
occupation of lands seized in the 1967 war and result, within 2
years, "in the emergence of an independent, democratic, and viable
Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security with
Israel and its other neighbors."
Israel's announcement last week of 1,600 new housing units threw
a wrench in Vice President Joe Biden's trip and has touched off what
some have said is the worst crisis in decades between the allies.
'Plenty of room for cooperation' with US
Mr. Kremeniuk says that Moscow has noted that the Obama
administration appears to be edging away from Bush-era uncritical
support for Israel, toward a view that sees US interests better
served by a Middle East settlement that will satisfy Palestinian
aspirations, even if it involves twisting Israel's arm more than in
For post-Soviet Russia, staking out political ground between
Israel and the Islamic world is crucial, due to Moscow's important
trading links with Iran and many Arab countries, and also due to
Russia's 20 per cent Muslim minority.
"Russia never will back the Israeli radical right, because we
cannot afford to alienate the Muslim world," says Alexei Malshenko,
an expert with the Carnegie Center in Moscow. "We are doomed to
occupy a centrist position. But we will work with our partners in
the Quartet. The Soviet Union, and its policies, are in the distant
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