The War In Gaza And Russia’s Foreign Policy Conundrum
Vladimir Putin recently stated, “We have always advocated for the implementation of the decisions of the United Nations Security Council, which involve the establishment of an independent and sovereign Palestinian state.”
Moscow’s endorsement of a Palestinian state has been met with skepticism among Russia’s historians and supporters in the ongoing conflict with Ukraine. Moscow’s ill-conceived policy of supporting the Palestinian cause not only undermines its position vis-à-vis Ukraine but also erodes its standing in the Middle East.
So, before Vladimir Putin turned into the apostle of peace, it is essential to delve into a historical perspective to underscore the pivotal role played by Russia’s predecessor, the Soviet Union, in the establishment and survival of the Jewish state. The fact is that the Soviet Union intervened in the Arab-Israeli War of 1948 not to enforce the United Nations Resolution 181 of 1947 and establish two sovereign states; it intervened to ensure the survival of one state—the state of Israel. And, by doing so, it foiled the establishment of a Palestinian state.
Following its victory, Israel occupied all the territory of former British-mandate Palestine, resulting in approximately 700,000 Arab refugees. These were the Arabs who rejected the two-state arrangement imposed by the United Nations and fought Israel, refused to live alongside Jews, and later (in the 1960s) became known as Palestinians.
Image: YouTube screen grab (edited).
Incredibly, refugee status became hereditary for Palestinians, and 75 years later, 5.9 million Palestinians are registered as refugees. But the defeated enemy never gave up on the dream of having one state—the Arab state. However, their ambitions were beyond their capacities. Unable to achieve this goal by military conquest, they resolved to terrorism.
The inconvenient truth is that Palestinians did not turn to terrorism because they do not have their state; they do not have a state because they turned to terrorism.
Terrorism worked well for the Palestinians. For decades, Arab states, Europe, and the US marched to the beat of a false narrative that peace in the Middle East is impossible without the resolution of the Palestinian issue. Donald Trump’s Abraham Accords, changed the narrative and ushered in a fundamental transformation in the relations between Arab nations and Israel.
Following the Abraham Accords, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain, Sudan, and Morocco established diplomatic relations with Israel. Saudi Arabia has already conceded the State of Israel as a reality and works toward normalizing the relationship.
In this environment, the Palestinian issue has not just lost its urgency and significance; it has become an impediment to the new Middle East reality. Although we are witnessing mass demonstrations worldwide in support of Palestinians, the Arab states limited their indignation to ideological declarations to fulfill their domestic necessities but have not taken any meaningful action in support of Hamas. Indeed, most Arab countries are surreptitiously rooting for Israel, and no Arab government has expressed willingness to accept Gaza’s refugees.
Given the historical background and current geopolitical landscape, it is perplexing for Russia to support the Palestinian cause in the Middle East, while it is in the middle of a bloody war with Ukrainians, who can be justifiable labeled as the “Palestinians of Europe.” If we replace Israel with Russia and Hamas with Ukraine, both conflicts look nearly identical.
At the core of both conflicts lie security and territorial disputes. Both Israel and Russia have been threatened since their inceptions: Israel by the Arabs since 1948 and Russia by NATO’s eastward expansion following the Soviet Union’s dissolution in 1991. Much like Israel, which would not tolerate a Palestinian murderess state on its border, Russia cannot accept Ukraine as a member of NATO—an adversarial military alliance—on its doorstep.
Moreover, in pursuit of their goals, both Ukrainians and Palestinians have resorted to acts of violence and terrorism against civilians. Since the modern State of Israel’s creation, Palestinians constantly attacked the Israeli civilian population indiscriminately, killing civilians, taking hostages, engaging in suicide bombings, and destroying property. Similarly, for a span of eight years, Ukrainians carried out indiscriminate bombing in the Donetsk region inhabited by the Russian population, killing thousands of women, children, and the elderly. Ukrainians also perpetrate acts of terror against Russian officials and their family members.
Both parties have adeptly utilized the perception of being victims of occupation to garner international support, both moral and financial. Indeed, the leaderships of both Hamas and Ukraine have enriched themselves through the allocation of billions of dollars and Euros in foreign aid. These notable similarities underscore the fact that neither party has managed to attain self-sufficiency or establish effective governance without external assistance. And both parties are proxies of their respective sponsors in the ongoing wars.
Moscow failed to assess the shifting geopolitical landscape accurately. The Abraham Accords have altered the course of Middle East history. Today, Russia’s support of Hamas savages serves the interests of Iran, which is a piranha of the Middle East but runs against the interest of Saudi Arabia and the host of Sunni states with whom Moscow needs to maintain a relationship to play a relevant role in the Middle East.
The war gave Russia a unique opportunity to assume a vital role as a peacemaker. Before the current conflict began, Russia, unlike the USA, had maintained positive relations with the key regional players such as Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Israel. This positioning could have allowed Russia, by manipulating their antagonisms, to act as a genuine mediator for peace, thereby elevating Moscow’s standing in the world. Instead, by taking sides in the conflict, Russia aligned itself with a losing and immoral faction, perhaps irreparably weakening its regional influence.
Eventually, the Palestinians will be gone in some form or fashion, and Hamas will be eliminated. But Israel, Iran, and Saudi Arabia will be around, and they are destined to reshape the Middle East and, it seems, this time without Russia, for better or worse.
Alexander G. Markovsky is a senior fellow at the London Center for Policy Research, a think tank that examines national security, energy, risk analysis, and other public policy issues. He is the author of Anatomy of a Bolshevik and Liberal Bolshevism: America Did Not Defeat Communism, She Adopted It. Mr. Markovsky is the owner and CEO of Litwin Management Services, LLC. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.