Russia, the fly on the wall of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict
By: Maria Dubovikova
The eternal conflict between Israel and Palestine goes is going through a new bout of escalation. The international community has cynically got used to coexisting with this conflict during the ages of its existence. The escalations are regular and inevitable, taking into account the position of the Israeli government and the problem within Palestinian society and its governance which, according to skeptical experts, are unlikely to be eliminated. Numerous initiatives and promises of a breakthrough and of a final settlement of the conflict failed, including the most recent one undertaken by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. The current instability in the region accompanied by constant bloodshed, extremist uprisings and geopolitical clashes is unlikely to encourage compromise between the conflicting parties. It is impossible to build peace in the middle of war, especially when the war between the conflicting parties has never really stopped.
The conflict itself does not directly threaten the security of Russia, however it does not mean, that it is beyond its foreign policy concerns. Russia is a Middle East Quartet member and is one of the key negotiators. It stands strong on the importance of conflict regulation on the basis of the Arab Peace Initiative, Madrid principles and many other agreements and decisions that have been taken. Thus, Moscow pursues with its counterparts just one goal – to settle the conflict on the basis of justice, equality and respect and to create two stable independent states. Russia itself has stable relations with Palestinian authorities, contacts with Hamas, and at the same time has friendly relations with Israel. This is a truly rare diplomatic combination which makes Russia an indispensable partner and mediator in the conflict.
Russia has stable relations with Palestinian authorities, contacts with Hamas, and at the same time has friendly relations with Israel
Today’s Russia-Israel ties still depend on its huge Russian speaking community of Soviet emigrants, who left the USSR for a better life but still sympathize with Russia and with their ex-compatriots or relatives who live in their ex-motherland. The two countries have diversified mutually profitable economic ties. Moreover, Israel turned into a sort of political ally if one remembers the more than neutral position of Israel during the Ukrainian crisis. As for Russian-Palestinian relations, its key foundation is the peace process. Russia’s stance on conflict regulation has not changed during years and it was always for the creation of an independent Palestinian state. Russia treats Palestinians as equal counterparts, as equal party in the peace process. So far, this seems to be very attractive for Palestinians.
Who is responsible
Yet, Russia sees both parties as responsible for the escalation in the current crisis, considering the kidnapping and the assassination of three Israeli teens as provocation committed to destabilizing the situation. The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs called on people not to give in to the attempts to hinder the peace process. Nevertheless, the calls from Moscow remained ignored, as well as of all those who raised their voices with the same appeal.
It might be curious to mention that the Russian expert community seriously assumes that Hamas is not responsible for the Israeli teens’ kidnapping, as there are many other smaller groups and organizations in Palestine that are acting independently and are not controlled by any major force within Palestine.
Another point it considers important to focus on is the fact that the escalation came shortly after the Palestinians succeeded in forming a national unity government. Embraced even by the U.S., this was perceived with dissatisfaction by Israel, and most likely in the same way by the most radical Palestinians. The kidnapping of three Israeli teens was a nice pretext for Israel to tighten positions and to change rhetoric. Thus, it is about an approach that could not a priori stay unrequited. Most likely, Hamas fighters used this as a pretext too. This quest for a pretext by both conflicting parties does not score points either for Israel, or for Palestinians (and especially for Hamas), as it questions their true intentions.
The rocket exchange between heavily armed and well-protected Israel on one hand and weak and poorly-armed Palestine on the other raises deep concerns. Firing rockets into densely populated Gaza causes the death of numerous civilians and of children, who are not responsible for the death of the Israeli teens or for the political decisions of Palestinian authorities, or for the air strikes which rarely hit Israeli cities. The Israeli airstrikes rarely find the guilty ones on the Palestinian side – those who fire rockets against peaceful Israelis. They sow panic, hatred and death, mostly among the innocent. Hamas’ aggressive responses are inappropriate and counterproductive and show the Palestinian weakness, highlighted a total lack of any co-ordination between Fatah and Hamas, and unfortunately the mostly terrorist core of Hamas.
It is for sure that the expected Israeli landing operation will certainly not improve the situation. The Russian authorities are sending warnings to Israel with other concerned members of the international community against further escalation and are calling for a cease-fire. Moscow even offers Egypt the chance to play a mediating role, as it had already done in the previous escalation of 2012. However, this could hardly work in this case. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has already said that the current situation is the biggest challenge the region has faced in recent years.
Despite the fact that Russia does not stop the attempts to move the peace process forward, to stop escalation and bring the parties to the negotiating table, its expert community is very skeptical about the future of the conflict. The Arab Peace Initiative, as suggested in order to settle the conflict, seems ideal and could work if all the parties are interested. But the recent developments show that this is not the case. The contradictions within the Palestinian society play against Palestinians. Israel, being strong, feels free in its actions, as now even international pressure would hardly influence its decisions. The longer the escalation goes on, the less chances for Palestinians remain to create their own stable state, equal to others. The chances for the peace process to work are quickly receding, meaning Palestine could stay in history only as a shattered dream.
Maria Dubovikova is a co-founder of IMESClub (International Middle Eastern Studies Club), IMESClub Executive Director and member of the Club Council, author of several scientific articles and participant of several high level international conferences. She is a permanent member of the Think-tank under the American University in Moscow. Alumni of MGIMO (Moscow State Institute of International Relations (University) of Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia) (honors diploma), she had been working for three months as a trainee at the French Institute of International Relations (IFRI) in Paris. Now she is a PhD Candidate at MGIMO (Department of International Relations and Foreign Policy of Russia). Her research field is Russian foreign policy, especially in the Middle East, the policy of France and the US towards the Mediterranean, theory of international relations, humanitarian interventions and etc. Fluently speaks and writes in French and English. She can be followed on Twitter: @politblogme