- By David FrancisDavid Francis is a staff writer for Foreign Policy, where he oversees FP's breaking news blog, The Cable. An award-winning journalist, David has reported from all over Europe, Nigeria, Kenya, Mexico, and Afghanistan on terrorism, national security, the geopolitics of energy, global economics, and the European financial crisis. His work has been published in outlets including the Christian Science Monitor, the Financial Times Deutschland, Slate, and SportsIllustrated.com.
President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry have been unable to make any progress on peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians. Russian President Vladimir Putin wants to give it a try.
On Thursday, the Russia’s Foreign Ministry announced Israeli and Palestinian leaders have agreed “in principle” to meet in Moscow. The hope is that the meeting would kickstart a peace process that has been nascent for more than two years.
There’s neither a set date nor an agenda for the meeting, although Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said both leaders have agreed to one. It’s also not the first time in recent days Moscow has tried to broker talks: On Tuesday, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said Israel had asked to delay a meeting tentatively set for this week.
If it does happen, and soon, new Israel-Palestine peace talks gives Putin a chance to succeed where the Obama administration has failed — even though it is unclear at best whether the two sides can overcome decades of sharp disputes.
The timing of Moscow’s announcement must also be uncomfortable for Kerry, who was meeting Thursday with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Geneva to try to forge peace in Syria. Kerry was the Obama administration’s most dogged advocate of new peace talks between Israel and Palestine during a nine-month period in 2013 and 2014, but fell short.
Those efforts fizzled when the Palestinian leader demanding Israel halt settlement construction on occupied lands claimed by the Palestinians. Abbas also called on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to carry out a prisoner release that was promised during previous talks. The Israeli leader, who has an icy relationship with Obama, refused, and the talks died.
Asked about Russia’s announcement Thursday, the State Department referred Foreign Policy to Sept. 1 remarks by spokesperson John Kirby of the possibility of Moscow-brokered peace talks. “I think the Secretary has said many times that he welcomes all ideas and all initiatives that can explore and hopefully get us closer to a viable two-state solution,” Kirby said then.
If the Moscow meeting does occur, it would be Russia’s latest push for influence in the Middle East. Already this week, Russia and Saudi Arabia have inked a deal to stabilize oil markets. One year ago, Putin began sending fighter jets, weapons, and troops to Syria to help embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
As for peace talks between Israel and Palestinians, “the most important thing is to pick the right timing,” Zakharova told reporters Thursday. “Intensive contacts on this are ongoing.”
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