Earlier this month, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov spoke by telephone to Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, the prime minister of Hamas’ government in the Gaza Strip. In an email interview, Robert O. Freedman, Peggy Meyerhoff Pearlstone professor of political science emeritus at Baltimore Hebrew University and visiting professor of political science at Johns Hopkins University, who has written on Russian policy in the Middle East, explained the state of Russia’s ties with Palestine.
WPR: What is the status of Russia’s ties with the Palestinian Authority (PA), which controls the West Bank, and Hamas, which controls Gaza?
Robert Freedman: Currently, Russia has diplomatic ties with both Hamas and the Palestinian Authority. Russian leader Vladimir Putin invited a delegation of Hamas leaders to Moscow soon after the Hamas victory in the 2006 Palestinian Legislative Council elections, thus striking a diplomatic blow not only against the United States but also against the other members of the Diplomatic Quartet (the U.S., the European Union, Russia and the U.N.). The Quartet had been set up several years earlier to facilitate the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, and, immediately after the Hamas election victory, had demanded that no state have relations with Hamas until it recognized Israel, renounced terrorism and accepted all previous Palestinian agreements with Israel. However, by backing Hamas, Moscow soon found itself caught in the dilemma of having to choose sides in the ongoing Hamas-Palestinian Authority conflict. Russia has sought to solve the problem by urging the two sides to unite. Given the growing weakness of Hamas due both to the war in Syria, which cost it Iranian support, and the July 3, 2013, change of government in Egypt that toppled Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohammed Morsi, whom Hamas saw as an ally, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov may have urged such a reconciliation during his recent telephone conversation with Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh.