Russia put its growing ties with Israel to the test on Monday by announcing plans to back a controversial Palestinian bid to win UN statehood despite strong resistance from the Jewish state.
The decision does not come as an outright surprise but still underscores the growing diplomatic isolation Israel finds itself in following a violent new flare-up in relations with regional powers Egypt and Turkey.
Russia’s ambassador to the United Nations Vitaly Churkin said Moscow was not pushing their Soviet-era allies to submit their candidacy for a vote at the world governing body later this month. But Churkin said Russia would vote in favour of any type of official UN recognition the Palestinians decided to seek.
“We will, of course, be voting for any of the Palestinians’ proposals,” Churkin said in televised remarks. “But I must say that we are not pushing them into it. We are saying that ‘Whatever you decide to do, we will support you’,” Churkin said. Palestinian leaders were meeting Monday in Cairo with Arab League ministers to discuss whether to submit their request to the 15-member Security Council or to the full General Assembly.
The former seems unlikely because it would almost certainly be vetoed by Israel’s traditional ally the United States. But the latter—while assured of support from most members of the United Nations—would only grant the Palestinians status of a non-member state.
What the Palestinians decide to do “will be one of the great intrigues of the upcoming session”, Churkin said.
Russia has been a strong Palestinian ally since the Cold War era but has more recently made inroads with Israel based on that country’s vast ex-Soviet diaspora and growing trade and other commercial ties.
But relations between the two sides hit a snag in January when President Dmitry Medvedev was forced to cancel a trip to Israel because of a local diplomats’ strike but proceeded with his plans to go to the West Bank.
The Russian president then reaffirmed his support for the establishment of a Palestinian state and demanded a “reasonable” Israeli solution to its contested West Bank settlement programme.
The spectre of the UN vote on Palestinian statehood and spiking regional tensions prompted Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak on Sunday to call for the 15-member inner security cabinet to convene for a crisis limitation debate.
Churkin’s comments suggested that Russia expected the Palestinians to choose a General Assembly vote that avoided a direct confrontation with the United States.
“This is the biggest difficulty—the United States is not hiding the fact that it is ready to use its veto,” Churkin said. He added that non-member statehood would help provide the Palestinians with direct access to economic assistance organisations such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.
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