Anna Smolchenko, AFP
Last updated: 26 June, 2012

Putin in Israel and West Bank for talks on Syria and Iran

Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas on Tuesday urged Russian President Vladimir Putin to help unblock long-stalled negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.

Putin met with Abbas during a stop in Bethlehem on a brief trip to the West Bank, a day after a stop in Israel where he met Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres.

In a statement to the press after their meeting, Abbas urged Putin to help secure the release of dozens of Palestinians held in Israeli jails since before the Oslo Accords peace deal, and to host a peace conference in Russia.

“We asked our friends to help us to release our prisoners who were arrested prior to 1994, who it was agreed with Israel would be released, but have not yet been freed,” Abbas said.

“We assured the president that the way to peace is through negotiations with Israel, and we continue to call for him to hold an international peace conference in Moscow, as we previously agreed.”

Abbas has in recent months frequently called for the release of 123 Palestinians detained by Israel since before the 1993 Oslo Accords, accusing the Jewish state of failing to honour a commitment to do so.

Earlier this month, he said that a release could be a precursor to “dialogue” with Netanyahu.

“If it (Israel) frees these prisoners, there could be a meeting with Mr Netanyahu for a session of dialogue but that doesn’t mean negotiations,” he said.

Putin on Tuesday praised what he called Abbas’s “responsible position,” but cautioned that “any unilateral actions before the final peace settlement are counter-productive.”

That appeared to be directed at both Israel, which has continued settlement activity over the objections of the international community, as well as the Palestinians, who have sought recognition as a full member of the United Nations.

“It is necessary to demonstrate extreme reserve, and strictly follow obligations taken upon oneself,” Putin added.

The leaders offered kind words about the friendship between their countries, and jointly unveiled a Russian cultural centre, but the trip appeared to produce little in the way of concrete political developments.

Direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians have been on hold since late 2011, with the peacemaking Quartet of Russia, the United States, European Union and United Nations, seeking to nudge both sides back to the table.

The grouping tried to plot a path back to direct negotiations late last year, but the efforts have so far yielded little success, with the Palestinians insisting on an Israeli settlement freeze before talks resume.

The Israelis want negotiations to begin without preconditions.

In Jerusalem on Monday, Putin discussed the crises in Syria and Iran with Netanyahu and Peres, who urged the Russian leader to use his influence with Tehran to protect the Jewish state against nuclear threats.

After his meeting with Abbas, the Russian head of state travelled on to Jordan, where he will hold talks with King Abdullah II.

Putin last travelled to the Palestinian territories in 2005 when Abbas hosted him in Ramallah. Putin’s predecessor in the Kremlin, Dmitry Medvedev, visited Jericho on a trip to the West Bank last year.

First Russian president Boris Yeltsin travelled to Bethlehem in early 2000, days after he resigned on New Year’s Eve and effectively installed Putin as his successor.