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, Moscow, May 5, 2021
Ladies and gentlemen,
My Palestinian counterpart, Riyad al-Maliki, and I had detailed and useful talks on bilateral, regional and international affairs. We have friendly relations with a positive history. We appreciate everything that has passed between Russia and the Palestinians.
Understandably, we focused on countering the coronavirus. At the end of last year, a group of Russian doctors worked effectively in Palestine. Back then, we sent supplies of test kits and other equipment helpful in combatting COVID-19. At the start of this year, we sent another humanitarian shipment of the Sputnik V vaccine. Moreover, now the Russian Ministry of Emergencies and the WHO are discussing a new project that will also be helpful in countering coronavirus but takes a broader approach to cooperation in order to improve the public health situation. It involves sending 10 treatment and 10 surgical modules to assist the Palestinians in treating infectious diseases, among other things.
We continue to provide assistance in other humanitarian areas as well. Since 2014, we have traditionally sent grain and flour from Russia to our Palestinian friends via the World Food Programme. Over seven years, such deliveries have added up to $20 million, including five million over the past two years.
We have agreed to continue training Palestinian personnel at the expense of the federal budget via the Russian Ministry of Science and Higher Education. We also assist in training Palestinian law enforcement officers.
Our figures are quite modest in the economy. We share the opinion that it is necessary to step up the activities of the Intergovernmental Russian-Palestinian Trade and Economic Cooperation Commission as soon as the public health situation improves. We have agreed to search for ways to implement mutually beneficial joint projects in all areas of mutual interest.
We have also discussed assistance to the Palestinian Foreign Ministry in training diplomats and special courses on various aspects of diplomatic activities. Such assistance will surely be provided soon.
We have had an in-depth discussion of developments in the Palestinian-Israeli peace process. We have serious concerns about the escalation in East Jerusalem and around the Gaza Strip. Several days ago, we gave a detailed statement with our assessment of the developments there. We believe that prompt de-escalation is necessary, which would meet the interests of both the Palestinians and the Israelis. We believe that the normalisation of relations between several Arab countries and Israel that we have seen over the last 12-18 months should not sideline the Palestinian problem and distract attention and lower the responsibility of the international community for implementing the corresponding UN decisions. Both Russia and Palestine are firmly committed to them. They constitute the generally recognised international legal basis for the peace process.
We have stressed our readiness to provide comprehensive assistance in establishing a direct dialogue between the Palestinians and Israelis to resolve all fundamental issues around the final status. We will do this both bilaterally, using our ties with the parties and other countries in the region, and as a member of the Middle East Quartet of international mediators, which, as we and our Palestinian friends believe, remains the most effective multilateral mechanism for supporting the Middle East settlement process approved by UN Security Council resolution. Together with the other Quartet members, we are now examining the possibility of arranging a meeting of the Quartet’s foreign ministers in order to encourage the platform’s activities. We continue to promote Russia’s view that it is necessary to establish more stable and concrete contacts between the Quartet members and representatives of the Arab League.
I believe that our talks were quite useful. I would like to thank the Minister and his team for the good conversation. I reaffirm our commitment to implement the agreements reached at the highest level, between President of Russia Vladimir Putin and President of Palestine Mahmoud Abbas. We have discussed this today. We have an understanding of how to proceed in these areas.
Question: The Palestinian people have lived under oppression and occupation for over 70 years. How do you think the settlement process of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict can be accelerated and the relevant UN decisions implemented? How can Russia help?
Sergey Lavrov: Over the last decades – in fact, since the very moment the corresponding UN General Assembly resolutions on establishing two new states, a Jewish and an Arab one, on the territory of the former Mandatory Palestine – we have spoken in favour of respecting and implementing these decisions. I will not go into detail about the history of the changes in the two states’ original borders. Today we are speaking about a somewhat different configuration. The current circumstances require that the decisions made by the UN Security Council after the Madrid Conference as well as the Oslo Accords (Oslo I and Oslo II) be put into effect. They mean acknowledging the reality: these are two states, which means that a Palestinian state must be created. All issues around the final status, including Jerusalem, refugees and water resources, must be exclusively addressed in direct talks.
Since the very beginning, Russia has played an active role in developing and adopting these decisions. Russia is among the countries insisting on their implementation. Direct dialogue and the resumption of talks are necessary in order to do this. This task has been central to our position for over 20 years, almost since the adoption of the UN decisions I have mentioned.
Among other initiatives to achieve the goal of resuming direct talks and ensuring that they yield results, we have proposed holding an international conference on the Middle East peace process in Moscow. This initiative was also approved by the UN Security Council. It was a long time ago, but this decision is still in force. After the Administration of US President Joe Biden came to power, the United States returned once again (at least, this was announced) to recognising the two-state framework. As such, it was possible to resume the work of the Middle East Quartet of international mediators, although at the level of experts and special representatives as yet. However, such contacts did already begin. We consider it fundamentally important, given the number and complexity of the problems that have piled up recently, to hold a Quartet meeting at the ministerial level in order to reboot efforts to implement decisions on a two-state settlement.
Russia has also supported the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative approved by the Arab League and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation. It envisages normalising relations between all Arab countries and Israel after the creation of a Palestinian state.
In this context, today we have discussed the normalisation of Israel’s relations with several members of the Arab League and the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf (GCC). These processes were accompanied by statements to the effect that this does not mean shifting the Palestinian problem to the background and revising the two-state solution.
Together with our partners in the Quartet and the parties, Russia dedicates all its efforts to strengthening these approaches. We support President of Palestine Mahmoud Abbas’s initiative to hold an international conference. Back at the time, this initiative was put forward by Russia and essentially approved by the UN Security Council. It requires thorough preparations. I believe they can be handled by the Quartet in cooperation with the Arab League.
Let us hope that nobody will use pretexts to drag out this work. The situation on the ground requires prompt and responsible solutions.
Question: Palestinian leaders still refuse to accept the US as the sole mediator in the settlement process. On the contrary, they supported Russia’s proposal that this role should be played by the Middle East Quartet. You have started to talk about Russia’s proposal; what is its fate? What obstacles are there to its implementation? Which countries support the holding of a peace conference, and which ones are blocking it? Why are conditions not right to create and convene one?
Sergey Lavrov: Everything I said in response to the previous question reflects our commitment to achieve concrete results, to resume direct talks. The Palestinians have always spoken in favour of the Quartet playing the crucial role in mediation. There are no changes in this position. We have always supported it. Such members of the Quartet as the EU and the UN share this opinion.
We are satisfied to see that the Quartet has resumed its work at the level of special representatives. There is interest in a meeting between ministers. Such a meeting requires thorough preparation.
It is an old proposal of ours, to hold a conference. However, now this is President Abbas’s initiative, which we support. A special process within the Quartet must be dedicated to it. We are working on this.
I will not speak about which countries support this or not. The proposal has been made and discussions are underway, and those in doubt need to be persuaded. I hope that this will not take long. Anything can happen in Palestinian-Israeli affairs. But we will try to avoid pauses, having learned lessons from past experience.