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Are Turkey, Russia possible peace brokers for the Palestine-Israel conflict?

January 22, 2020 at 2:22 pm

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas meets with former US President Donald Trump in New York City, US on 3 May 2017 [Thaer Ghanaim/Apaimages]

The Palestinians have realised that American President Donald Trump is seeking to solely bolster Israel and to utterly isolate the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO). When the Trump administration closed the Palestinian mission in Washington in 2018, Palestinian leaders described the decision as “a declaration of war” on peace efforts. And when the administration relocated its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem against all international agreements and UN resolutions, Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat said Donald Trump replaces international law with the “law of the jungle”. More vehemently, PA President Mahmoud Abbas accused the US of no longer being qualified to act as peace broker.

Since then, the Palestinian leadership hasn’t shown any indication that it’s seeking an alternative peace broker that can fill the vacuum of the American administration. This inability to find a substitute peace mediator can be attributed to a number of reasons. Firstly, the unequivocal reluctance of the Israelis and especially the current Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, to abandon the “heavenly gift” called Donald Trump, who unhesitatingly gives Israel without asking for return. Secondly, the current United Nations structure is entirely impotent to challenge the American will and seek other routes to broker bilateral negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians. And finally, the unjustified hesitation of the Palestinian Authority to depart from the orbit of the Americans, fearing more sanctions and collective punishment, the same as those imposed on UNRWA.

READ: Israel’s renewed campaign against UNRWA is an attack on Palestinian education and liberation

The agenda of the current American administration has materialised in piecemeal fashion rather than as part of a comprehensible strategy. The worst thing is that there are no suggestions that Trump’s administration aides and advisers have considered the long-term repercussions of this approach, leaving the Palestinians no room but to seek other options.

Thanks to that American policy, the moribund peace process is now dead and bracing to be buried. A war between the Gaza Strip and Israel may erupt at any time. The Gaza Strip is literally on the brink of collapse and all options are almost consumed. If the ghost of war was unleashed and the genie was out of the bottle, which power would intervene to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe against the civilians in the besieged Gaza Strip and stop Israel’s usual brutality and use of excessive force.

Russia’s role unimpressive

Russia’s political, diplomatic, military and economic footprint in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) has expanded visibly over the last decade. It has been backing the regime of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad and is now taking a more active role in Libya where it is supporting General Khalifa Haftar against the UN-backed Government of National Accord.

Libya Chief of Staff, Marshall Khalifa Haftar arrives for a conference in Italy on 12 November 2018 [Flippo Monteforte/AFP/Getty Images]

Libya Chief of Staff, Marshall Khalifa Haftar arrives for a conference in Palermo, Italy on 12 November 2018 [Flippo Monteforte/AFP/Getty Images]

It’s time in Syria has seen Russia in regular contact with Israel, which has also been involved in bombing the devastated country.

In 2018, Russia and Israel succeeded in defusing tensions after a Russian plane IL-20 was shot down by the defence systems of the Syrian regime amid an Israeli air raid. The incident signalled good communication channels between the leaders of the two countries. However, when it comes to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, Russia’s involvement is quite superficial. The Palestinians are interested in having Russia as a peace mediator but the Israelis don’t have the appetite to abandon the American administration.

READ: No opposition from the international community as Israel alters the two-state paradigm

For the Israelis, Russia’s relations with the Iranians and Syrian regime disqualify it from being a potential peace broker. Most importantly, Tel Aviv can’t digest that Moscow does not recognise Hamas as a terrorist organisation. One might argue though that Moscow’s good relations with Tehran and Hamas’ leadership is an advantage that can facilitate talks and involve real active Palestinian factions that have been excluded by the American brokers. For the Palestinians, Russia is a key moderator for the internal reconciliation talks. Moscow hosted the last round of talks in 2019.

Reportedly, Russia has been trying to host Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations, but its attempts have not borne fruit because of the Israeli intransigence.

The US provides Israel $3.8 billion in foreign military aid annually. Israel also benefits from about $8 billion in loan guarantees. There are serious doubts that Moscow is willing, or capable, of competing with Washington as the main and most generous backer and donor to Israel.

Turkey’s role as a peace mediator

Israeli-Turkish relations date back to 1949, when Turkey was the first Muslim majority country to recognise the State of Israel. For decades, both countries gave high priority to military, strategic and diplomatic cooperation. In 2005, Erdogan visited Israel and offered to serve as a Middle East peace mediator. Ankara was one of the main regional powers that convinced Hamas to participate to the 2006 election. However, the turning point in the relationship between Israel and Turkey was the 2008–2009 war on Gaza which seriously strained relations. Later in 2010, the killing of ten Turkish activists onboard a Turkish aid flotilla to the Gaza Strip decimated relations. Ankara went on to describe Israel’s policies in the Gaza Strip as “state-sponsored terrorism”.

Erdogan also likened the Israel’s Gaza policies to the Nazi treatment of the Jews. Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu lashed out against the Turkish president saying: “Someone who does not stop lying, who slaughters Kurds, who denies the massacre of the Armenians, should not preach to Israel.”

READ: Netanyahu to use Holocaust memorial event to lambast ICC

Netanyahu and Erdogan’s verbal blows over Gaza indicate that Israel considers Turkey pro-Palestinians and as such cannot be an impartial peace broker.

The key for the Palestinians is to breach the monopoly of the American administration as the sole peace broker that has itself declared its partiality. The Palestinians would welcome the involvement of the European Union and should even encourage more powers to be involved. Turkey would definitely step in at least as an observer in any coming negotiation. The trajectory of Turkey’s current foreign policy shows its interests in presenting itself as more influential in the Middle East.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.