ROAR: Moscow offers another “window of opportunity” to Hamas

Vladimir Kremlev for RT
The effectiveness of contacts between Russia and Hamas for the peace settlement in the Middle East is questioned by media. But Moscow already gets practical gains from this dialogue, analysts say.

Hamas’s political leader Khaled Mashaal has met with Russian officials in Moscow to discuss ways of resuming peace talks with Israel and perspectives of reconciliation between Palestinian factions.

“Hamas will continue its dialogue with Moscow,” Nezavisimaya Gazeta daily wrote. However, it will be more difficult for the Palestinian movement to come to an agreement with another faction, Fatah. Also, leaders of Hamas do not see “any perspectives of Middle East peace settlement,” the paper said.

“Moscow is supporting the resumption of Palestinian-Israeli talks as soon as possible,” the daily said. “However, the split among Palestinians that started in 2007 is one of the obstacles in its way,” the paper noted.

Hamas does not recognize Mahmoud Abbas as the head of the Palestinian National Authority, whose term of office expired in January, the paper said. At the same time, the fate of parliamentary elections due to be held on June 28 “depends on Hamas’s signing of the agreement on Palestinian reconciliation, mediated by Egypt,” it added.

Mashaal also discussed with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov the peaceful process between Palestinians and Israel. In this issue, Nezavisimaya Gazeta noted, Hamas “has demonstrated unity with Palestinian National Authority. Mashaal said in Moscow that the main problem is “the continuing construction of Jewish settlements on Palestinian territories and the situation around Jerusalem,” the paper said.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will arrive with the first official visit in Russia on February 14 to discuss the Iranian nuclear program and other issues. “Observers believe that visits of heads of main Palestinian factions and the Israeli prime minister are connected with Russia’s more active peacemaker efforts and possible meeting in Moscow of ministers from the Middle East Quartet of international mediators,” the daily said.

Russia is the only co-sponsor of the Middle East peaceful process that support ties with Hamas, the movement that won a democratic elections in 2006, Moskovsky Komsomolets daily said. This position helps Moscow to play a role of mediator between the rival Palestinian groups, it added. Head of Palestinian administration Mahmoud Abbas visited Russia only half a month ago.

“Unlike the West and Israel, Russia does not consider Hamas a terrorist organization and carries on a dialogue with both leaders of Fatah and Hamas,” the paper said. The first visit of Hamas’s delegation to Russia took place in 2006. “There were no immediate effect from those talks, but Russia demonstrated its intention not to drive Hamas into a corner,” the daily added.

The international isolation “only strengthens” the movement’s radicalism, the paper said, adding that Moscow makes efforts to bring Hamas to political mainstream, as it was once the case with the Palestine Liberation Organization.

However, it is doubtful that the new visit by Mashaal will bring quick results, the paper said. “The more so, because the attempts of Arab countries (first of all Egypt) to reconcile Fatah and Hamas have ended only in conversations so far,” the daily said. Anyway, further efforts should be made, it added.

As a participant of the Quartet, Russia “is using any contacts to achieve peace in the Middle East,” Rossiyskaya Gazeta daily said. “And Russia considers Mashaal one of important players in this process,” the paper said, adding that peace is impossible without taking into consideration the position of this movement.

The main goal of Mashaal’s visit was his meeting with Sergey Lavrov, the daily said. “During the previous year, Russian diplomats were in a relative political shadow when it came to the Middle East settlement,” it added.

“The administration of US President Barack Obama tried to prove that its policy will be different from that of the tandem of President George Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rise,” the paper said. “Moscow did not put obstacles in the way of the enthusiastic team of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. In the end, if Washington manages to reconcile Israel and the Palestinian Authority, everyone will win.”

“However, time has passed, and no progress has been noted,” Rossiyskaya Gazeta said. “By the end of 2009 it was clear that the Americans had failed to achieve anyhing to change the situation for the better.”

Then Egypt joined active diplomatic efforts, the paper said. Cairo almost persuaded the rivals to come to an agreement between Palestinians, without which any their talks with Israel were doomed to failure. “But Egyptian negotiators also failed,” the daily said.

Now the turn has come for Russian diplomats, who for more than two years have been nurturing plans to summon an international conference on the Middle East, the daily noted. Prior to his visit to Moscow, Mashaal said he hoped to remove al the disagreements between the two Palestinian factions by the meeting of Arab leaders due to be held in March in Libya.

At the same time, a less optimistic scenario is possible, the daily said, adding that neither Israel, nor Fatah and Hamas will win if they “continue to turn down Moscow’s compromise proposals.”

Meanwhile, some analysts believe it will be too difficult for Moscow to be a successful intermediary between the rival Palestinian factions and between both of them and Israel. Russia cannot do “what Palestinians do not want to do for themselves and what nobody can make them to do,” said Evgeny Satanovsky, president of the Institute of Middle East Studies.

Moscow was able to establish contacts with Hamas thanks to good relations with Syria and Lebanon, Satanovsy told Rosbalt news agency. But the movement failed to use “the window of opportunity” opened for them during the first visit of its members to Russia, although they got a chance to speak at the international level, the analyst said.

Hamas did not use that chance not only to reconcile with Israel, but also with its main competitor, Fatah, Satanovsky added. There is no dialogue between the factions, and Abbas “will not take part in any international conference where Hamas leaders are his equal partners,” he said.

“I think our dialogue with Hamas is no more than a giving a platform on the request of Syrian and Lebanese colleagues to the movement to tell someone something,” he noted.

At the same time, Moscow also gets practical gains from contacts with all sides in the Middle East. “Russia has a strategic dialogue with Israel,” Satanovsky said. On the other hand, when a civil war broke out in the Palestinian authority, Russia managed to pull its citizens out of Gaza.

During Israel’s Cast Led operation that started in December 2008, Russia also managed to save people thanks to “ties with Hamas,” Satanovsky said. These facts alone “have justified the contacts,” he said.

Sergey Borisov, RT