Medvedev visits the occupied territories

AP, Tuesday 18 Jan 2011

Russia's President Medvedev to meet PA Chairman Abbas in the occupied territories Tuesday, where the Palestinian leader is expected to ask Moscow to renew its recognition of a Palestinian state

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (R) and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev (L) shake hands during a press conference in the West Bank town of Jericho, Tuesday 18 January 2011. (AP)

Russian President Dmitri Medvedev was Tuesday to meet Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas over the deadlock in Middle East peace talks on his first visit to the occupied territories.

The trip is a rare Middle East visit for Medvedev, who will also meet Jordan's King Abdullah in Amman on Wednesday to discuss the stalled Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.

A planned stop in Israel was cancelled because its foreign ministry workers are on strike.

"The upcoming talks with the Palestinian leadership follow the logic of Russia's fundamental commitment to reinvigorate international efforts to stabilise the situation and achieve peace in the Middle East," the Kremlin said in a statement ahead of the visit.

Medvedev, who is being accompanied by a 600-strong delegation including hundreds of Russian businessmen, will start the visit in Jericho, an ancient oasis town in the West Bank where he will hold talks with Abbas.

He is also expected to open a Russian-funded museum there, but the stop will consist mainly of discussions about the peace process, which stalled several months ago over the issue of continued illegal Israeli settlement building on Palestinian land.

Russia, which is one of the four members of the Middle East peace Quartet along with the United States, European Union and United Nations, has traditionally competed with Washington for influence as a power broker in the region.

Medvedev's trip comes ahead of a Quartet meeting on the sidelines of a security conference in Munich next month, which is hoping to give fresh impetus to the stalled negotiations.

Direct peace negotiations between the two sides began in September but ground to a halt weeks later when an Israeli ban on settlement construction in the West Bank expired and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu refused to renew it.

The Palestinians have said they will not hold talks while Israel builds on their land and future state. US efforts to secure a new moratorium failed.

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat described the visit as of "historic importance in light of the support given to the Palestinian position on the negotiations that stalled over Israel's refusal to halt settlements."

He said Moscow had already indicated its support for Palestinian attempts to secure a United Nations' resolution condemning Israeli settlements building, but sources in Ramallah said Abbas would seek to confirm that support.

He was also expected to ask Moscow to renew its recognition of a Palestinian state, which was declared in 1990.

The last time a Russian leader visited the West Bank was in 2005, when ex-president and current Prime Minister Vladimir Putin paid a visit to the region.

Medvedev's top foreign policy adviser Sergei Prikhodko said Russia was not so ambitious as to believe it could single-handedly re-start the peace talks.

"That would be a very high hurdle," he said. "We do not consider ourselves a messiah. We are ready to demonstrate a responsible approach and share that responsibility with everyone."

Medvedev's Middle Eastern tour had been scheduled to include a stop in Israel but the Netanyahu administration asked the Kremlin earlier this month to postpone the visit because of a strike at the foreign ministry.

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