Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s statement and answers to media questions during a joint news conference following talks with Minister of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates of the State of Palestine Riyad al-Maliki, December 21, 2018
Ladies and gentlemen,
We had good and substantive talks on a wide range of issues of mutual interest in the context of regional events and bilateral relations.
We highly value our friendly relations with the State of Palestine, which have markedly intensified over the past years, primarily due to a regular political dialogue between the presidents of Russia and Palestine.
Today, we reiterated our willingness to continue to help solidify the foundation of Palestinian statehood, resolve the urgent tasks of creating effective governing institutions and improve the socioeconomic situation.
Our trade remains modest, but the participants of the most recent meeting of the Russian-Palestinian Intergovernmental Commission on Trade and Economic Cooperation held last month discussed ways to encourage rapid and broad economic ties in all areas. In particular, they reviewed the activities which started a year ago following a Russian business mission’s trip to Palestine. Specifically, the issue is about a number of agricultural projects and creating joint ventures in industrial zones in Bethlehem and Jericho.
I’m confident that the Eurasian Economic Commission’s decision to make the State of Palestine part of the group of countries enjoying preferential tariffs will help promote economic ties and trade.
The number of Russian tourists is on the rise. Last year, 360,000 Russian citizens visited Palestine, primarily, holy places, which is almost 20 percent more than the year before.
This year, Palestinian students received 150 state scholarships for studying at Russian universities.
In turn, we appreciate the fact that the leadership of Palestine is encouraging the spread of the Russian language in their state. Russian is taught at the Russian-Palestinian Friendship School built with Russia’s assistance, the Russian Centre for Science and Culture in Bethlehem and its branch based in Hebron.
We are energetically promoting cooperation with the Palestinians in the sphere of culture. We took part in creating a multi-purpose complex in Bethlehem which is now fully operational. The historical centre of Bethlehem across from the Church of the Nativity is being renovated by Russian specialists and with our country’s financial support.
The museum and park complex, which is home to cultural events and guided tours, was created in Jericho with our participation and enjoys wide popularity. An archaeological exhibit is being built there following the joint Russian-Palestinian archaeological mission.
Russia has provided and will continue to provide humanitarian aid to the Palestinians through bilateral channels, the World Food Programme and the World Health Organisation.
When reviewing the Middle East peace process, we expressed our deep concern about the deteriorating relations between the Palestinians and the Israelis. We agree that it is important to work to prevent the escalation of tension, which plays into the hands of extremist forces in the Middle East and North Africa. As you may be aware, Russia’s initiative to hold a meeting of the leaders of Palestine and Israel in Moscow without preliminary conditions in order to consider all the many problems that are not growing any smaller, is still highly relevant.
Russia will continue working to create conditions to resume the negotiating process in the interest of achieving a comprehensive, fair and lasting settlement on the well-known international legal basis. The UN General Assembly supported this recently with an overwhelming majority of votes. This provides for creating an independent Palestinian state within the corresponding borders, which would coexist in peace and security with its neighbours.
We touched on US policy, which has for a long time now been trying to present the result of its mediating mission to the international community as the “deal of the century.” No one has seen this deal yet. Our common position is that international mediation should nevertheless be carried out in collective formats. The Quartet, which includes Russia, the United States, the UN and the EU, is the best option, which should work closely with the League of Arab States.
Of course, we see that certain external players want to push the Palestinian problem into the background, downgrade it as a priority in regional affairs. We believe that early restoration of Palestinian unity is of particular importance if we want to counter such attempts.
Russia maintains regular contacts with all representatives of Palestinian society. In 2017, we held a multilateral round of intra-Palestinian dialogue. Today, we discussed the possibility and feasibility of holding this dialogue again in 2019 with the participation of all Palestinian forces, including Fatah and Hamas.
We agreed to maintain contacts on all the issues discussed today and other matters that may show up on our agenda.
I’m thankful to my colleague, Foreign Minister of the State of Palestine Riyad al-Maliki, for the very good work we did together today.
Question: What do you think about the prospects of a Middle East settlement given US President Donald Trump’s hostile statements on Palestine?
Sergey Lavrov: We are worried by the attempts to undermine the international legal foundations of the Palestine-Israel settlement, which are fixed in UN resolutions, including binding ones. We are seeing how easily the US renounces its international legal agreements, such as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action on Iran’s nuclear programme, which was approved by the UN Security Council, and now the INF Treaty and many other documents that concern not only security and non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction but also trade and the economy. Such revisionism as regards international law and attempts to replace it with some rules that Western countries are inventing and trying to impose on others, point to a very dangerous trend.
As for the Palestine-Israel settlement, it is no secret for anyone that for many years Washington has sought to uphold Israel’s interests and consider its position in all respects. We are acting in the same vein, considering our special relations not only with Palestine but also with Israel. We want to help reach a stable agreement that will ensure Israel’s legitimate security interests. However, they should be part of the balance of Palestinian and Israeli interests sought by all valid UN resolutions and the UN-approved Arab Peace Initiative.
Therefore, we believe, as my colleague has already said, that no agreement can be reached single-handedly for all the importance of the US role. Clearly, it will likewise be impossible to reach such an agreement without the US. So it is necessary to return to the collective formats of the Quartet of international mediators – the US, Russia, UN, and the European Union – in close coordination with the Arab League.
It is very dangerous to look at all regional problems through the prism of confronting Iran, as we are regrettably seeing from the US and some of its allies. This is a highly dangerous policy that is fanning confrontation and is fraught with a Shia-Sunni explosion in the Islamic world. If this happens, the Palestinian issue will simply pale in comparison to the much more painful crisis in the region.
Problems in this region, as anywhere else, should be resolved only through dialogue rather than on the basis of ultimatums, demands and dictates. It is necessary to sit at the negotiating table and come to terms. This also applies to the problems that have accumulated in relations between Russia and the West. It is essential to work on all international issues – be it the Palestine-Israel peace process, the problems between the Arabs and Iranians in the Gulf region or relations between Russia and the West – on the basis of equality and mutual respect.
Question: Today you have revived the Russian proposal for the Palestine-Israel meeting. At which stage is this initiative? What or who is obstructing its implementation?
Sergey Lavrov: Indeed, we regularly revive this proposal. Every time the President of Russia meets with Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu or President of the State of Palestine Mahmoud Abbas, he reminds them of this proposal that was made a couple of years earlier. Abbas always says that he is ready for such a meeting without any preconditions, as Netanyahu asked. The Israelis do not reject the possibility in principle but are not yet ready to fix a date.
As for what is obstructing the proposed meeting and what can help bring it about, the answer is clear. It is obstructed by the absence of Palestinian unity and may be facilitated by the restoration of this unity. All Palestinians should speak in the same voice through the legitimate structures in Ramallah.
Question: In what way will the withdrawal of US forces from Syria announced by President Trump affect the alignment of forces in the Palestine-Israel conflict, considering that Iran maintains a presence there?
Sergey Lavrov: Any withdrawal of troops that are illegally deployed in this or another country is a step in the right direction. But it raises many questions. Have the details of this initiative been coordinated? How will it be carried out, if at all?
At yesterday’s news conference President of Russia Vladimir Putin mentioned that the US withdrew from Afghanistan more than once, returned and withdrew again. There are other examples, such as Iraq. The situation was similar there: they withdrew and then came back.
I would prefer to watch the implementation of the initiative following its announcement. To my knowledge, many people questioned it in the US. Let’s wait and see.