Outwardly, Russia is loyal to the idea that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the reason for Middle East unrest. This approach raises the bar on Palestinian demands and makes normal life in the region less likely.
China’s and Russia’s absence from the economic conference in Bahrain last month was hard to ignore. If past experience is any indication, one can assume the Chinese are not set to initiate alternative plans for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Russians, on the other hand, will promote – if only behind the scenes – plans that will interfere with the normal regional routine and are in opposition to Israeli interests.
The Kremlin’s policy vis-à-vis the Palestinians is not the result of altruistic motives but tangible Russian interests. Moscow is interested in enlisting the support of Muslim and Arab states for its plan to establish itself in the Middle East and Africa. The Russian position is also connected to the morale of its Muslim citizens, who make up some 10% of the country’s population, and reflects a desire to avoid internal unrest. It was only a few weeks ago that Russia’s Deputy Mufti Rushan hazrat Abbyasov declared that Muslims in the country supported every aspect of the Palestinian struggle. Add these two components to Russia’s traditional inclination to encourage anti-Western movements around the world and the Kremlin’s adoption of a pro-Palestinian policy in opposition to Israeli interests but also the interests of moderate Arab and Muslim states. Makes a great deal of sense.
Outwardly at least, Russia adheres to the concept that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the reason for the unrest across the Middle East. Of course, this approach raises the bar on Palestinian demands and paradoxically, makes it more difficult to foster efforts to enable normal life in the region. The approach is reminiscent to a great extent of the difficulty caused by the line adopted by former US President Barack Obama, who in a speech in Cairo, set a new level for settling the conflict: that any progress was dependent on a construction freeze beyond the Green Line. This bar, from the moment it was set, mandated the Palestinian demands as a starting point and in fact made it impossible to move toward fruitful dialogue.
This approach, now adopted by the Russians, directly harms the processes toward regulating Israel’s ties with Arab and Muslim states, which are based upon common interests that are not impacted by the Palestinian nationalist idea. Russia has not sufficed with publishing its stance but has acted to openly enlist the support of prominent Arab states. So, for example, ahead of the Bahrain conference, the foreign ministers of both Russia and Egypt declared that both countries were in agreement on the need for a comprehensive solution to the Palestinian issue. Egypt, however, sent its representatives to Bahrain. It, along with other leading countries in the region like Saudi Arabia, have a clear interest in developing the economy of the region and the Palestinian territories in particular. Both Riyadh and Cairo are interested in containing the Palestinian issue and silencing another local focal point that is getting in the way of regional development.
Israel, of course, has an interest in refuting the perception that there is a connection between the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the rest of the centers of conflict across the Middle East. Nevertheless, when it comes to Russia, Israel sees Iran and Syria as more pressing issues on its strategic agenda. Accordingly, and in light of the interests of countries like Saudi Arabia and Arab Gulf states in relation to what transpires in their surroundings, Riyadh and its neighbors can take advantage of the leverage they have against the Kremlin to undermine the perception of the Palestinian issue’s relevance to all developments in the Middle East.
Published in Israel Hayom 22.07.2019
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