Palestinian Authority President Mahmud Abbas arrived in Moscow on February 12 for meetings with President Vladimir Putin as he seeks Russia’s support in the face of rising tensions with the United States.
Abbas was originally scheduled to meet with Putin at the Black Sea resort of Sochi, but the Russian leader canceled the trip to remain in the capital to monitor developments after the crash of a passenger plane killed 71 people outside of Moscow on February 11.
The Palestinian leader’s trip to Moscow comes two weeks after a visit by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Relations between the U.S. administration and the Palestinians have been strained since President Donald Trump on December 6 announced he was recognizing Jerusalem as Israel's capital, angering the Arab world and triggering condemnation elsewhere.
Palestinians regard Jerusalem as the capital of their future state. Israel has annexed East Jerusalem and declared the entire city as its capital, a move never recognized by the international community, and Abbas would like to strengthen his position behind Russian support.
Abbas is also looking to get backing for an international mechanism for Middle East peace talks to supplant the United States as the leading player.
Israel and the United States have long opposed an international effort involving the United Nations in peace negotiations, expressing concerns it would be biased against Israel. They have insisted on direct talks between the parties.
“Russia and Putin can play an important role within the frame of an international forum for peace,” Majdi al-Khalidi, an adviser to Abbas, was quoted by The Times of Israel as saying.
Abbas, who is scheduled to speak at the UN Security Council on February 20, has also been angered by threats by Trump to cut funding to the Palestinian Authority.
The Palestinian envoy to Moscow, Abd al Hafiz Nofal, said on February 11 that the Palestinians were not looking to exclude the United States from the peace process, “only asking that other parties join” as well.
Aleksandr Shumilin, a Middle East scholar at the Institute for U.S. and Canadian Studies, called Abbas's visit "an attempt to cozy up to Russia, a consistent ally, and to stop Netanyahu leading Moscow astray during an improvement in Russia-Israeli ties."
Shumilin told the AFP news agency that the Palestinian leader’s visit "is a necessary political gesture for Abbas but can do little in the practical sense."
"It is also definitely not worth expecting a breakthrough from this visit," he added.
Russia in 2016 offered to host one-on-one talks between Abbas and Netanyahu, but nothing came of the suggestion.
With reporting by AFP, AP, The Times of Israel, and Palestinian News & Info Agency