Russia accuses US of promoting ties between Israel and Arabs before Israeli-Palestinian peace deal

Sep 27, 2023, 4:57 PM

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Russia accused the United States on Wednesday of promoting Israel’s normalization of relations with Arab nations and circumventing the Arab Peace Initiative launched by Saudi Arabia in 2002, which calls for a settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict before any diplomatic recognition of Israel.

The statement by Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia at the U.N. Security Council’s monthly meeting on the Mideast also implicitly criticized Saudi Arabia — without naming it — for moving toward establishing diplomatic relations with Israel while taking “aggressive illegal actions” including an “unprecedented” expansion of settlements on territory that is supposed to be part of an independent Palestinian state.

Nebenzia said U.S. efforts to normalize Arab-Israeli relations at a time that the “de facto” international legal framework for an Israeli-Palestinian peace settlement is being dismantled not only circumvents the “logic” of the Arab Peace Initiative, but it stymies “any prospects for reviving direct negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis” to achieve peace and a long-sought two-state solution to their decades-old conflict.

The council meeting took place a day after Saudi Arabia’s newly appointed envoy to the Palestinian Authority, Nayef al-Sudairi, made a first trip to the Israeli-occupied West Bank since the 1967 Mideast war. At the same time, Israel’s Tourism Minister Haim Katz led an Israeli delegation to the Saudi capital Riyadh to take part in a conference hosted by the U.N. World Tourism Organization.

Both visits were clearly linked to the recent American efforts to normalize ties between Saudi Arabia and Israel.

Al-Sudairi’s visit was widely seen as an attempt by the kingdom to address the key sticking point in the Saudi-Israeli normalization deal: Saudi Arabia’s stance toward Palestinians.

The Saudi government has said it will only normalize ties with Israel if there is major progress toward the creation of a Palestinian state. Before presenting his credentials to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah, al-Sudairi sought to assure the Palestinians that Saudi Arabia was “working to establish a Palestinian state with east Jerusalem as its capital,” without elaborating.

Nebenzia and virtually all Security Council members – including the United States – reiterated support for a two-state solution where Israel and Palestine live side-by-side in peace.

U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield expressed continuing U.S. support for efforts to normalize relations between Israel, its neighbors and other countries in the region.

She expressed hope that another meeting of Jordanian, Egyptian, Israeli, Palestinian and U.S. senior officials “will soon be convened at the ministerial level and will further advance regional integration initiatives.” At a meeting of the five countries in late February in Aqaba, Jordan, the Israelis and Palestinians affirmed their commitment to all previous agreements and the necessity of de-escalating violence and work “towards a just and lasting peace.”

That hasn’t happened, and the violence has escalated since then.

Nebenzia pointed to violent attacks including by Israeli settlers, arbitrary arrests, “unprecedented” settlement expansion and Israel’s forced evictions of Palestinian families, confiscation of their property, legalization of settlement outposts and violations of the “status quo” of the holy sites in Jerusalem.

Thomas-Greenfield warned that ongoing violence in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza is setting back peace prospects and called on all parties “to refrain from actions and rhetoric that further inflames the tensions.”

The U.S. ambassador expressed alarm at the sharp rise in violence by extremist Israeli settlers against Palestinians and warned that the United States opposes settlement building and “takes the issue very seriously, as it undermines the possibility of a future contiguous Palestinian state.”

Tor Wennesland, the U.N. Mideast envoy, reported that in the three months between mid-June and mid-September, 68 Palestinians, including 18 children, were killed and 2,830 were injured by Israeli security forces, while 10 Israelis, including two children, were killed and 122 injured.

The U.N. envoy said Secretary-General António Guterres is also “deeply troubled by the unrelenting expansion of Israeli settlements and settlement outposts” in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, with over 10,000 housing units advanced in just that three-month period.

Wennesland was reporting on implementation of a December 2016 Security Council resolution that also called on all countries to distinguish in their dealings with Israel between its territory and the territory it has occupied since the June 1967 war. He cited U.S. State Department guidance on June 26 that scientific and technological cooperation with Israel in such areas “is inconsistent with U.S. foreign policy.”

As for launching peace talks, Wennesland noted al-Sudairi’s appointment and the statement after an Aug. 14 meeting of Egypt’s president, Jordan’s king and the Palestinian president. It noted the importance of Israel halting all settlement activity and underscoring that a “just and comprehensive solution” to the Palestinian cause is key to stability in the region.

On the sidelines of last week’s meeting of world leaders at the U.N. General Assembly, the Arab League, European Union, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan held a ministerial meeting on Sept. 18 to “discuss practical ways to reinvigorate the Middle East Peace Process,” Wennesland said.

France’s U.N. Ambassador Nicolas De Riviere expressed support for their agreement “to prepare a package of measures that will benefit both Palestinians and Israelis once a peace agreement has been signed.”

“This initiative should enable us to create the necessary incentives for the resumption of negotiations,” he told the Security Council.

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Russia accuses US of promoting ties between Israel and Arabs before Israeli-Palestinian peace deal