During his 48-hour trip to Moscow (Monday and Tuesday May 6-7), Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will try and talk President Vladimir Putin into cutting Israel into the military teamwork evolving between Washington and Moscow for combating the Islamic State in Syria. As a quid pro quo, he will offer to elevate Moscow to senior broker in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, with Moscow or Geneva selected as the venue for direct Israeli-Palestinian talks, if they occur – and with US participation. Netanyahu is also keen on a role for Egypt’s Presidents Abdek-Fattah al-Sisi.
DEBKAfile sources in Jerusalem and Moscow report exclusively that the floating of this deal was the reason why Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov abstained from attending the Mid East conference staged last weekend by France’s President Francois Hollande in Paris. The UK and German foreign ministers followed the Russian lead and stayed away.
And Friday, June 3, on the day of the Paris meeting, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikihail Bogdanov, who is in charge of Kremlin Middle East policy, offered a formula for resolving the problem of Israeli settlements on the West Bank. That formula was very similar to the land swaps plan proposed by Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman a few years ago.
It consisted essentially of the transfer to the Palestinian state of parts of Israel with dense Arab populations, in return for Palestinian recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Israeli communities of Judea and Samaria.
In comments to Tass news service, Bogdanov said that Moscow is willing to host an Israeli-Palestinian peace conference, and also offered to mediate between the rival Palestinian factions, including Abu Mazen’s Fatah and the radical Hamas which rules the aza Strip.
While some Israeli politicians see the French initiative as offering President Barack Obama a handle for settling accounts with PM Netanyahu before he leaves the White House at the end of the year, Moscow and Jerusalem are concocting a parallel strategy – not merely to block the Franco-American move, but also to lift Washington’s drive for an Israeli-Palestinian accord from Paris to Moscow.
DEBKAfile sources say that this maneuver is based on the early stages of military and political coordination between Washington and Moscow in the Syrian arena, including the fight against ISIS.
No such coordination exists between Washington and Paris.
Netanyahu envisages the tightening military cooperation between Russia and Israel for Syria, along with Israel’s active participation in the airstrikes against ISIS, as becoming integral to American-Russian understandings, and extending also to the Israeli-Palestinian issue.
Moscow and Jerusalem both estimate that an offer of US-Russian-Arab guarantees to the Palestinians, underwritten by Egypt and Saudi Arabia, can move the negotiations forward.