Russia urges direct talks between Israel, Palestine

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MOSCOW, MAR 17 – Russia urged Israel to renew direct talks with Palestine, aiming to establish a Palestinian state. Russia is ready to contribute to organizing a direct dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on Wednesday at a news conference in Moscow following a meeting with his Israeli counterpart Gabi Ashkenazi.

“Special attention was paid to the situation in relations between the Arab countries and Israel. We welcome the normalization of Israel with a number of Arab states and believe that this process should contribute to a comprehensive settlement in the region, which implies a solution to the long-standing Palestinian problem,” Lavrov said.

For his part, Ashkenazi claimed Israel is building relations with the Arab countries “not instead of a settlement with the Palestinians” but to return them to the negotiating table.

“Recently, the Middle East region has been going through a period of important changes. Israel’s relations with Arab countries have been normalized, and agreements on diplomatic relations with the UAE, Morocco, and Sudan have been signed. But we are not doing all this instead of a settlement with the Palestinians, on the contrary, we are calling on the Palestinians to return to the negotiating table,” he said.

But an investigation against Israel in the International Criminal Court (ICC), initiated by Palestine, “harms the chances of a settlement with the Palestinians,” Ashkenazi said.

“We are not the ICC members — signatories of the [court’s founding treaty] Rome Statute. The ICC can only deal with the affairs of states, and we do not recognize Palestine as a state. We have our own legal system, which has its own opinion on this matter. […] Palestinians make a mistake addressing the ICC,” Ashkenazi said.

Lavrov supported Ashkenazi in his criticism against the ICC, saying Russia views the activities of this body “negatively,” stressing that this position is “principled and consistent and not limited to a particular situation.”

“When it [the ICC] was created, there was hope that it would be an independent, professional body that could become universal. The ICC disappointed these expectations. It has repeatedly demonstrated its political bias, lack of professionalism, lack of understanding of the norms of international law, made mistakes in the application of international law, and unjustifiably tried to expand its competence, contrary to what is written in its statute, invading areas that are not typical of it,” Lavrov said.

Russia refused to participate in its activities, withdrew its signature, and considers any actions taken by the court in the context of its “unpleasant reputation,” the minister said.

Israel ‘will not let Iran use Syria to attack Israel’

Asked about Israeli attacks on Syria, Gabi Ashkenazi said Israel would continue “doing everything to provide its security” and “will not let Iran use Syria to attack Israel.”

“We will not allow the Iranians to use Syria to act against us, and we will do everything necessary to ensure our security. We would be ready to somehow resolve this Iranian issue in some other way with Russia, as well as with other states, and we would be happy to do so,” the minister said.
Ashkenazi said Israel sees the way to stability in the region through halting the Iran nuclear program.

Russia expects 6th meeting of Syrian Constitutional Committee to be ‘fruitful’

Speaking about the upcoming sixth meeting of the Syrian Constitutional Committee in Geneva, Lavrov said there was reason to believe it will be fruitful, can lead to direct contact between the delegations of the government and the opposition.

“Even now, at the preparatory stage, the various groups that participate in the committee — there are three of them — exchanging written views, which will create conditions for more productive discussions at the sixth meeting than at previous rounds of negotiations.

“And we hope that in the near future [UN envoy for Syria] Mr. [Geir] Pedersen will announce the dates of the sixth meeting, which should be held in late March or early April, before the beginning of the [Muslim] holy month of Ramadan,” he said.

Commenting on Pedersen’s idea to expand the group of mediators of the Constitutional Committee, Lavrov suggested the UN envoy present a written concept, confirming the new-comers will adhere to the principles of sovereignty, territorial integrity, and other principles of the UN [Security Council] Resolution 2254.

“Before including them [new mediators], you need to decide on what basis he [Pedersen] wants to try out this new format. Only a framework that clearly reproduces the commitment to the [UN] Resolution 2254 will do for us,” he said.