Home Staff Courses DocumentsEventsLinks Contact



Russia helps bring peace to the Middle East
MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti political commentator Marianna Belenkaya)

It has been a long time since an Arab League summit attracted as much attention as the one on March 28-29. No one expected the meeting in Riyadh to cause a sensation, and it did not. It was the agenda that generated the most interest, primarily the revival of an Arab initiative on establishing relations with Israel.
The principle of the Middle East peace process – land in exchange for peace – has remained unchanged for several decades. It is the atmosphere in the Middle East that has been changing. Remarkably, developments in the region are echoing a proposal that Russia made a few years ago.
In April 2005, Russian President Vladimir Putin proposed holding a Middle East conference like the one that took place in Madrid in 1991. It would review the status of the peace settlement and the possibility of re-launching negotiations with all parties to the conflict (the Palestinians, Lebanon and Syria). The conference could also discuss general topics related to regional security and the outlook for cooperation in different spheres, from trade to natural resources.
Judging by the results of the Arab League summit, Arab countries are ready for a dialog and, therefore, a conference. It looks like the United States is also in favor of holding such a conference. America could put pressure on Israel to attend the event. At present, the Israelis are wary of the initiative, believing that they may be pushed toward agreements they are not ready for. Yet the future conference, if it follows the Madrid model, will be only the first step down the path to compromise. It could be described as a "discussion of political horizons," a phrase frequently used now in the context of the Middle East. Israel says it is ready for such a discussion, even if only with the Palestinians. But after the Arab League summit they will have to concede the obvious: Palestinian-Israeli dialog is not possible outside the context of a general Arab-Israeli settlement. This was demonstrated by the summit's move to reaffirm the decision made at the similar summit in Beirut in
At that meeting, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, who was then the crown prince, suggested that Arab countries should agree to establish diplomatic relations with Israel provided it withdrew from the occupied territories to the pre-1967 border and resolved the problem of Palestinian refugees in accordance with the UN General Assembly's Resolution 194. The summit approved the Saudi initiative, and a year later Russia insisted on its being mentioned in the Middle East road map as a component of the peace process. Also on Russia's initiative, the road map became the basis for the UN Security Council's Resolution 1515. But only now can we say that the Saudi initiative is being taken up by the broader community of Arab countries.
The individual style of Saudi diplomacy, which was on full display in February, when the kingdom helped broker several agreements between Palestinian groups, involves looking for wordings that make no one look like a losing party. Apparently, Riyadh now wants to repeat its success at the international level. It has the opportunity to talk and look for compromises between the Palestinians, Lebanon and Syria on the one hand and Israel (even if unofficially) on the other. Moreover, even the United States respects the opinion of Saudi Arabia.
On the day of the Arab summit's opening, Oleg Ozerov, deputy director of the Russian Foreign Ministry's department for the Middle East and North Africa, said at a news conference at RIA Novosti that the Saudi and now common Arab initiative could become part of the international legal framework for an Arab-Israeli settlement. He added, however, that it would not be the only proposal taken into consideration. This means that Israel's opinion will also be considered. All it takes is for everyone to sit down together at the negotiating table.
The overview of Russia's foreign policies posted on the Foreign Ministry's website says that an expert meeting in Moscow could be an important part of preparing for the international conference. It would formulate the topics to be discussed.
Of course, compromises on all the sensitive issues are not to be expected soon. But Saudi Arabia, on behalf of almost all Arab countries, has offered Israel an opportunity to start a dialog. It seems that it is ready to press not only Israel, but all parties to the conflict toward a compromise, even if it has not said so openly. In so doing, it will enjoy the support of Russia, the United States, Europe and everyone who is willing to accept reality instead of clinging to the same old slogans. The only other option is to give up hope for peace in the Middle East altogether. But this is hardly an option that anyone can take seriously.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily represent those if RIA Novosti. –0–