The 1-5 March 2015 visit to Israel and Palestine by the RISS delegation led by L.P. Rechetnikov was extremely full and fruitful. It coincided with major events in the region: a two-day meeting of the Central Council of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (the highest body of the Palestinian Authority) and the lead-up to the early Israeli parliamentary elections scheduled for 17 March.

The aim of the most important meeting of the Central Council of the PLO was to develop a list of new measures for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to help revive peace talks between the Palestinians and the Israelis.

“The Palestinians highly appreciate Russia’s efforts to mediate in the negotiations and hope, with her help, to realize UN resolutions calling for the establishment of a full-fledged Palestinian State”, said President Mahmoud Abbas during a meeting with RISS Delegation Head L.P. Rechetnikov at his residence in Ramallah. The meeting was also attended by A.N. Rudakov, Russian Ambassador to Palestine, E.V. Suponina, RISS Advisor, and D.V. Devyatkin, Chelyabinsk City Council Member and Head of RISS’ Chelyabinsk Information Analysis Centre.

The Palestinian leader noted the close cooperation and mutual understanding with Russia’s leadership, and President Vladimir Putin personally, on all international issues, including the crisis in Ukraine and Syria, and expressed confidence that contacts at the highest level will continue in the near future.

This was also highlighted by Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah, who spoke to the RISS delegation about the need for increased economic cooperation between Russia and the Palestinians. One of the new areas is cooperation in the field of oil and gas in the newly discovered oil fields in Palestine.

General Jibril Rajoub, a member of the Fatah Central Committee (Palestinian National Liberation Movement), formerly the head of a Palestinian security service, and now the head of the Palestinian Olympic Committee, cited the cooperation established several years ago with RISS as an example of the strengthening ties between Russia and Palestine.

“It’s great, not only that you visited again, but that you brought the Zhivaya Rus Cossack Ensemble with you. Russian culture, music and literature is very familiar and important to us”, said the General, who actively promotes Russian and Palestinian collaboration in the field of sport.

RISS organised concerts of the ensemble for compatriots, Palestinians and all comers in Ramallah and Bethlehem. With the help of the Russian Embassy in Palestine and S.A. Shapovalov, the General Director of the Russian Centre of Science and Culture in Bethlehem, a round table on the subject “Russia and Palestine – Spiritual Ties and Special Relations. A Look at History and the Present” was held in Christ’s homeland on 3 March 2015.

Presentations on Russia’s presence, strengthened across centuries, in the Holy Land were delivered by D.M. Volodihin, RISS Adviser and P.V. Multatuli, Head of Analysis and Assessment Sector, RISS Centre for Humanities Research. RISS Director L.P. Rechetnikov and RISS Advisor E.V. Suponina gave presentations focusing on an analysis of the situation in the Middle East and the post-Soviet space. 

Judging from participants’ questions, the presentations generated lively interest. That Russia has in recent years become more active in this region was impressed upon the RISS delegation during visits to such significant sites as the Russian Museum-Park complex in Jericho and the Holy Trinity monastery in Hebron (also known as the monastery of the Holy Forefathers and the farmstead of the Russian Ecclesiastical Mission in Hebron). The delegation will long remember the warm welcome and parting words of Hieromonk Alexei, the farmstead steward.

The RISS delegation met with other officials in Ramallah, including Nabil Shaath (Fatah Central Committee member and presidential adviser), Hussein al-Sheikh (Minister of Civil Affairs), Mohammad Shtayyeh (Head of Palestinian Economic Council for Development and Reconstruction) and others.

As a matter of course, the delegation’s programme included a visit with Nabil Kassis, the Director of the Palestinian Economic Research Institute with which RISS signed a cooperation agreement in 2014, and his colleagues. In the course of the delegation’s visit to the Hebron University, the university leadership requested the formation of a similar cooperation agreement with RISS.

RISS Director L.P. Rechetnikov and RISS Advisor E.V. Suponina also met with Israeli experts in Tel Aviv. In particular, they met with Professor Efraim Inbar, director of the Begin-Sadat Centre for Strategic Studies, to discuss issues of bilateral cooperation and the current problems of the Middle East, with an emphasis on the Israeli-Palestinian settlement and international negotiations in relation to Iran’s nuclear program.

And whilst there are many differences between Palestinians and Israelis, in discussions with the RISS delegation their opinions coincided on at least one point: at a time when many in the Middle East are unhappy with the policies of the Unites States, the Middle East needs Russia, at the very least to level the balance of power in the region.