ROAR: Russia pushes for direct talks to settle Israeli-Palestinian conflict

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov is discussing Middle East problems and the situation around the Gaza Strip with the leaders of Israel, the Palestinian National Authority and Egypt.

Russia wants contacts between Israel and the Palestinian Authority to be transferred into direct talks, observers say. Also prior to Lavrov’s Middle East tour, the Russian Foreign Ministry made it clear Moscow would stress the need to lift the Gaza blockade.

Analysts wonder if Russia is able to reconcile the parties of the Middle East conflict. Lavrov “is trying to resume Palestinian-Israeli talks,” the government’s Rossiyskaya Gazeta daily said. Although the situation in the Middle East has been described as “a deadlock,” the minister embarked on a three-day tour of the region, the paper added.

No breakthrough agreements are expected, but the parties involved “will watch closely what the Russian foreign minister says, and analysts will try to understand if Lavrov manages to restart inter-Palestinian dialogue and persuade the Israeli side to lift the Gaza blockade as soon as possible,” the daily noted.

At first glance, one may think the visit to the Middle East is untimely,” the paper said. Two days before Lavrov’s tour, representatives of Hamas stressed all the recent efforts to reconcile that Palestinian movement and another, Fatah, had been deadlocked. That means that the possible direct talks between the Palestinians and Israelis will be indefinitely postponed,” the paper said.

Until the united Palestinian position is voiced, Israel will not discuss anything, the daily said. But so far nobody knows when Israel will have a partner for the dialogue, the paper added.

On the other hand, Tel Aviv does is not doing everything it can on the way towards direct talks, the paper said. “Thousands of articles have been written about the bloody incident with the Gaza aid flotilla, but the Israeli side still rejects the idea of creating an independent international commission,” the daily said.

The situation around the Gaza Strip also remains complicated, the daily added. “Last week Israel solemnly announced that the blockade of the Palestinian enclave has been fully lifted,” it said. Israel also stressed that the volume of humanitarian aid to Gaza would increase sharply. However, it is not clear yet if the blockade was lifted fully, the daily noted.

In these conditions, it seems that it would be better for the Russian foreign minister to wait and visit the region when the sides are ready for the resumption of the fully-fledged negotiation process, the daily said. “On the other hand, without intermediary efforts the situation could again turn into an open armed conflict,” the paper added.

Lavrov’s Israeli counterpart, Avigdor Lieberman, noted he did not believe the Palestinian state would be created by 2012. There are no agreements at the moment that would make it possible to start the implementation of the program of establishing the Palestinian state within two year, he stressed.

This will add to pessimistic predictions about the fate of the Middle East dialogue. Lavrov warned in Israel that the lack of progress at the peace talks could lead to increasing extremist sentiments in the Palestinian autonomy.

Russia still has intentions of playing an active part in the settlement of the Middle East problems, said Maksim Minaev of the Center for Political Conjuncture. However, Moscow’s influence there has been slowly reducing since 2004, he noted.

Lavrov will try to win Egypt’s support in realizing Russia’s scenario of solving the regional problems, the analyst noted. Cairo remains the main intermediary between the Fatah and Hamas movements, he added.

One of the main tasks for Lavrov is to support the negotiation process and, in the future, to help start the Palestinian-Israeli talks on the final status of the Palestinian state, Izvestia daily said.

Moscow, among other things, is interested in solving the Middle East problems because more Russians are visiting the region. More than half a million Russians are likely to visit Israel in 2010, Lavrov said after talks with Lieberman.

Visa-free travel between Russia and Israel started in September 2008. In 2010, more than 220,000 Russian tourists have visited Israel, according to the country’s Ministry of Tourism. In April 2010, more tourists came to Israel from Russia than from the US.

Sergey Borisov,
Russian Opinion and Analysis Review, RT