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The Palestinian conflict and Russia

19/06/2007 MOSCOW-
(RIA Novosti political commentator Pyotr Romanov) -

A terrorist spree in Gaza caused a final split in Palestine, and forced
Mahmoud Abbas to introduce a state of emergency and establish a new Cabinet.

Russia's mediation of contacts with Hamas failed. As they visited Moscow,
delegates from the Hamas leadership had a tour of the Kremlin, but even the
sight of its art collections did nothing to civilize them.

To appease Hamas was a lost cause. That was clear from the start and made
Moscow's foreign political blunder all the more regrettable. As history
proves, any force, including terrorists, can cunningly use democratic
procedures, which, however, do not make that force a respectable political
entity. The old diplomatic rule, "Better negotiate than do nothing," does
not work in such instances because terrorists are per se no partners in
talks, and getting to the negotiating table with them is counterproductive
or, at best, pointless. Coaxing makes terrorists bold enough to shoot at
bedridden hospital patients.

Russia has not to this day recognized Hamas as a terrorist organization.
This makes its Middle Eastern policies even more doubtful, especially
considering the Gaza atrocities.

Alexander Shumilin, an independent expert and director of the Mideast
Conflict Analysis Center in Moscow, says: "Hamas leaders are obstinate. They
think they have made too many concessions in talks with Saudi Arabia for a
national unity government. They think they are efficient leaders. Encouraged
by Iranian and Russian moral and political support, they would not give up
their principles and allow Abbas to lead the show, on which the Saudi
leadership and the entire Arab world insisted."

Politics is tough, so let us leave ethics aside and see what Russia would
gain with its current line.

The situation is clear. The whole world sides with Fatah against Hamas. Even
more importantly, the most reasonable forces in Arab countries have a
similar preference. True, Hamas militants were not alone to take up arms in
the conflict, and an ad hoc commission of the League of Arab States will
investigate Gaza violence next month. However, recognition of Abbas' new
government by many influential Arab countries shows which of the Palestinian
forces the Arab majority believes is legitimate. In fact, Hamas has lost
even the semblance of legitimacy it had kept up.

Theoretically, it takes a dialogue between all Palestinian forces to bring
peace to the region. That's what Russia's Foreign Ministry insists on. But
to state one's position explicitly is one thing and to go on with a practice
proved erroneous is another. Moscow should not resume its losing attempts at
direct mediation, which would lead us nowhere - just add another headache.
So it would be wiser to draw a lesson from recent history and leave
mediation for Arab countries or any other who dare try their luck in the
Middle Eastern minefield.

Hamas is a force to be reckoned with, but there are different ways to go
about it. It can be confronted. One can also try to appease or gradually
transform it. The latter option is theoretically possible - remember Yasser
Arafat's evolution - but it would be a very slow and difficult process.

The attempt to appease Hamas has failed. To confront it, Russia needs strong
and influential allies to do so. As for transformation, Russia has quite
different foreign political priorities, so the game isn't worth the candle.

Possibly, it would be wiser for Russia to tackle the Palestinian problem
solely as a Middle Eastern settlement co-sponsor - a position that would
offer exhaustive information about the developments and allow it to keep a
safe distance. After all, dashing to and fro in no-man's land during a
skirmish is not the most reasonable thing to do.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not
necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.