Saturday, January 22, 2011

Russia's Embrace of a Palestinian State: an Exaggeration?

Last week, President Medvedev visited Jericho in the West Bank in a much publicized visit. During the visit, president Medvedev reaffirmed his country's decision  to recognize a Palestinian state, that was originally adopted in 1988 (when the Fatah declared an independent state).

The Arab media were quick to celebrate this victory. However, JPost points out that Medvedev's visit was devoid of much substance and its rather small, ceremonial visit is in a way an expression of disappointment over the cancelled presidential visit to Israel:
The city hadn’t seen such pomp and range of highest political officials for a long, long time. President Vladimir Putin paid a visit to Ramallah in 2005.
However, this current visit was very different: this time Medvedev visited only Jericho, crossing the Allenby Bridge from Jordan.
It was not supposed to be this way, as the Russian president was scheduled to visit Israel as well and only canceled this visit due to the ongoing strike in the Foreign Ministry. This detail was omitted in the many ecstatic reports by the Palestinian media that flocked to Jericho.
The commentators were quick to interpret this as another sign of the “superb” relations between Russia and the PA, and received an endorsement of this theory during the speech of the honored guest.
Addressing the dignitaries and the journalists, Medvedev said that it was a “unique event, a solo visit.”
Then a festive ceremony of signing agreements between the Russian and PA Ministries of Agriculture, news agencies and Olympic committees took place. When you don’t have anything important to sign, you have to produce something, one of the Russian journalists whispered. “I’m certain that tremendous opportunities for expanding the cooperation lie ahead,” the Russian president smiled.
This might be true. However, the fact that hundreds of influential businessmen and lobbyists didn’t join Medvedev in his Palestinian-Jordanian tourney points to the disappointment of the Russian side with the cancellation of the visit to Israel. As affectionate as the meeting between Medvedev and Abbas was, it was no substitute for the important economic and political relations with Israel.
So it turns out the warm, highly publicized visit, was just that, a warm visit to show 'solidarity', thus gaining street cred in the hood :)

Did Russian policy towards the peace process or towards the Palestinians change? All signs lead to no:

And here comes the million-dollar question: Did Medvedev officially recognize the Palestinian state or didn’t he? Many analysts in the PA ruled that he did: in fact Jericho Mayor Hassan Saleh announced that “Russia is going to recognize Palestinian independence” even before the Russian president had made his speech. And indubitably, that is exactly what Palestinians would like to hear.
Yet that was not what Medvedev actually said. In fact, there was not one single word, not one single fact regarding unilateral Palestinian independence.
Medvedev affirmed that in 1988, the Soviet Union supported the declaration of independence made by Yasser Arafat in Algiers, and that the Russian Federation today backs the struggle of the Palestinian people for independence – but so do the US, EU and UN. 
Almost immediately, Medvedev said Moscow strongly opposes any unilateral acts and that as a member of the Middle East Quartet believes that negotiations are necessary and that the current framework of the Oslo agreements, the road map and the Annapolis declaration is still viable.
This last part was omitted by Arab commentators, who were quick to adapt the message to their own dreams and ambitions 
So essentially, nothing to see here, let's move a long! The Russians have long been considered allies of the Arab world. To maintain good relationships they cannot be appearing to go back on their position. On the other hand, modern Russia has been fostering good relationships with Israel, relationships that have taken a strategic nature in the last few years.


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