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PUTIN’S MIDDLE EAST VISIT FOCUSES ON RALESTINE
14.02.07
MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti political commentator Marianna Belenkaya)

Gas, terrorism, and Palestine were the key issues raised during Russian
President Vladimir Putin’s visit to Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Jordan.
Trade and economic cooperation deserve special attention because they are a
subject for the future. Security and military-technical cooperation are
classified. The sides discussed them and even reached agreements, but we
will not know any details today, or maybe ever. But they openly and
extensively discussed Palestine and the Arab-Israeli conflict in general.
As the Russian president himself put it, “no matter what we started to
discuss with our partners during the trip, we invariably began and ended
with Palestine.” It is no accident that the visit resulted in Putin’s
previously unannounced talks with Palestinian National Authority President
Mahmoud Abbas, who made a special trip to the capital of Jordan for this
purpose.
Putin’s talks with Arab leaders on the Middle East did not cause any
sensations. They revolved around a proposal for an international conference
on the Middle East, which Putin had first made during his previous tour of
the Middle East about two years ago.
The proposed conference is reminiscent of the Madrid forum in 1991, at
which a peace process was launched in the Middle East in four directions:
Palestine-Israel, Jordan-Israel, Lebanon-Israel, and Syria-Israel. Moscow
suggested a similar conference, at which all interested parties could
discuss their differences. Israel is afraid that the results of such a
meeting would be imposed on it as the terms of a final settlement. To the
contrary, the Arabs insist that before sitting down at the negotiating
table, the sides should understand what they want to achieve.
On the whole, this approach is justified. After all, even without a forum,
all parties know their opponents’ positions. There have been enough debates
on this subject, and everyone wants results. But today, the sides cannot
reach agreements that would equally satisfy all of them. What is the point
of holding a conference then?
The Madrid forum did not produce specific agreements either. Its main
result was the formation of working groups that tried to find points of
contact, but to no avail.
Israel and Palestine signed the first accords only at their secret
negotiations in Norway in 1993.The Israeli-Jordanian peace treaty appeared
in 1994, years after the Madrid forum. But in both cases, the agreements
were not likely to be signed if it had not been for Madrid, where Israeli
and Arab leaders met in public to discuss a settlement for the first time.
The public realized that a compromise was possible. Madrid gave peace a
chance. Regrettably, it was eventually lost.
Quite a few mistakes were made in Madrid, via Oslo, and later on. The
political situation in the Middle East and the rest of the world has
changed more than once. This new period requires new catalysts and
loadstars. Few people today doubt that the Arab-Israeli conflict must be
resolved, but is it possible to revive the peace process and repeat Madrid
without making the same old mistakes?
This is the gist of Putin’s proposal. Explaining his idea during the visit,
he emphasized that “if we know the result, we don’t need a conference – the
sides should simply sit down and sign all the papers at once. But we think
the conference could help facilitate cooperation.”
Putin added in the same breath that Russia does not consider its proposal a
cure-all and welcomes work in every possible format, including through the
Quartet, which acts as a go-between for the Israelis and Palestinians, and
direct talks between partners in the Middle East.
The round of bilateral negotiations is over, and the Quartet is getting
ready for a regular meeting next week. Russia will attend it with the
achievements made by President Putin during his Arab tour.

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