Russia regretful over U.S. decision to delay Arab-Israeli peace step

Russia has expressed regret over a U.S. decision to postpone the Arab-Israeli peace process meeting scheduled for Friday.

Media reports quoted diplomatic sources on Tuesday as saying that the United States had again decided to reschedule the Berlin meeting of the Quartet of international mediators for Israeli-Palestinian peace, which had already been postponed from March, and no new date for negotiations has been set.

“We have taken this with regret,” Russian Deputy Foreign Minster Alexander Saltanov was quoted by the media as saying on Wednesday. “We should activate our efforts towards Israeli-Palestinian settlement, which will certainly help us introduce a stabilizing element to the processes that are currently taking place in the large area of the Middle East and North Africa,” the diplomat said.

Russia has announced its intention to take a more active role in the Israeli-Palestinian settlement issue, with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev reassuring his country’s support of a Palestinian state during his visit to the Palestinian Authority in January. Last month, both Arab leader Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu visited Moscow for talks with the Russian leadership.

After the United States first asked to delay the Quartet meeting in March amid rising tension in Libya and across the region, Russia also warned against shelving the Israeli-Palestinian issue, arguing that in times of unrest, foreign leaders should “make three times or ten times more efforts” to hasten peace between the Israelis and Palestinians.

A leading Middle East expert from Russia’s Institute for Strategic Research described Russia’s reaction as “outdated,” saying that there were much more important issues that the international community should address in the Middle East.

“What should we discuss when the Middle East is hit by revolutions?” Vladimir Karyakin said. “First, we should look at what is happening in Libya, Syria and Bahrain. Until those issues are resolved, there will be no constructive discussions on the Palestinian-Israeli settlement, which is not a priority now.”

What Russia has to do now is to “wait” rather than make hasty statements, he suggested.

‘Not the right time’

Media reports have quoted U.S. diplomatic sources as saying the decision to postpone the Quartet meeting had been made because it was “not the right time” for negotiations on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict since the parties were not ready to make concessions at the moment.

“It was very unlikely that this [the Quartet meeting] would bring the parties back to the negotiating table,” a diplomatic source close to the Israeli Foreign Ministry told RIA Novosti. “The Palestinians are not interested in returning to negotiations under almost any circumstances.”

The Friday meeting was expected to see the mediators (the United Nations, European Union, Russia and the United States) discuss a plan for a final settlement to the 63-year conflict proposed by Britain, France and Germany. But their proposals on the core issues of the Arab-Israeli settlement were unlikely to be accepted by the sides, the source said.

“Both for the Israelis and the Palestinians, the uncertainty that surrounds them is making them more cautious and detering them from making decisions they need to make,” he said.

Yevgeny Satanovsky, who heads Russia’s Institute of the Middle East, suggested that the decision to postpone the Quartet meeting could mean that the United States was preparing a new initiative for the Palestinian-Israeli settlement.

“[U.S. President Barack] Obama is going to present the world with another genius concept, and he needs time for this,” he said.
But the Israeli diplomat said it was “too early to say whether there will be an Obama proposal of one kind or another.”

“I don’t think just a U.S. initiative will be enough to bring the parties back to the table or to create a breakthrough,” he said. “The decision needs to be made by leaders here. Obama can’t want the agreement more than the parties themselves.”

In September, U.S. attempts to resume direct negotiations between the Israeli and Palestinian leaders failed just a few weeks after they met in Washington following a 20-month break over the issue of continuing settlement construction in the occupied West Bank.

Quartet failed?

Analysts agree that there has been almost no progress made by the Quartet in hastening peace between the Israelis and Palestinians.

“The Quartet has nothing to do with real politics,” said Russian expert Satanovsky.

“The Quartet has never been a mediator, it’s always been a backup group for U.S. negotiations,” said Dr. Claire Spencer who heads the Middle East and North Africa Program at Chatham House, a London-based think-tank.

“I think it’s very difficult to see what the role of the Quartet has been. The main concern now is what the relevance of the Quartet is when what seems to be on the table is a possible unilateral declaration of independence by September this year by the Palestinian Authority,” she added.

But other experts say that although there have been no real signs of progress, it’s still too early to dismiss the Quartet.

“There is no alternative to the Quartet now,” said Vitaly Naumkin, the director of the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Oriental Studies. “I believe that the opportunities of the Quartet have not been exhausted yet. But the Quartet cannot fasten decisions that are doomed to failure.”

Widening the Quartet’s mandate and involving other regional powers to negotiations would help achieve more success on the Israeli-Palestinian track, he said. Russia, as the only Quartet member who maintains ties with the Palestinian movement Hamas, should use this opportunity to ease the inter-Palestinian reconciliation, he added.

Some analysts believe that changes that are taking place in the Middle East will play a positive role in resolving the long-standing conflict.

“I think that we are now in a completely new situation because of the developments in the region,” said another Chatham House expert, Nadim Shehadi. “I think a radical change in the atmosphere which would help resolve the conflict is approaching.”

MOSCOW, April 13 (RIA Novosti, Maria Kuchma) 

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