Russia says Palestinian, Israeli leaders agree to meet

Abbas and Netanyahu likely to meet in Moscow, Russian foreign ministry says, but the date is yet to be decided.

Mahmoud Abbas
Abbas previously said he would only meet Netanyahu if Israel freezes settlement construction on occupied Palestinian lands [AP]

Israeli and Palestinian leaders have agreed “in principle” to meet in Moscow in what Russia hopes will relaunch Middle East peace talks after more than two years’ break, according to the Russian foreign ministry. 

While it is not clear when the meeting will take place, Maria Zakharova, Russia’s foreign ministry spokeswoman, said on Thursday Moscow had heard from the offices of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that the two agreed to meet in the Russian capital.

“The leaders of Palestine and Israel have given their general consent to meet in Russia,” Zakharova told reporters.

“The most important thing is to pick the right timing,” she added. “Intensive contacts on this are ongoing.”

Al Jazeera’s Mohamed Jamjoom, reporting from Moscow, said the Russian statement “hardly sounded like a sure thing at this point”, highlighting a comment by a Kremlin spokesperson on Wednesday saying that a meeting between the two sides was “not on the schedule and not on the agenda”. 

READ MORE: Palestinians sceptical of French-led ‘peace talks’

Earlier this week, Abbas said a scheduled meeting in Moscow had been postponed at Israel’s request.

Abbas has said that he would only meet Netanyahu if Israel freezes settlement construction on occupied lands and carries out a previously agreed-on release of Palestinian prisoners.

“Palestinian sources are saying they are not asking for pre-conditions,” Al Jazeera’s Imran Khan, reporting from Jerusalem, said.

“They are asking for obligations the Israelis should have done anyway,” Khan said, adding that according to a source from the Israeli prime minister’s office “Netanyahu is willing to meet Abbas anywhere, [but] without preconditions for the talks”. 

Although neither side has yet confirmed the meeting, “it seems they are willing to meet, but there is some fine tuning to be done,” said Khan. 

READ MORE: UN voices concern over stalled Israel-Palestine talks

The last round of peace talks facilitated by the United States broke down two and a half years ago, with no progress.

“There is a hope that the Russians might be better peace brokers than the US, who are often accused of being too lenient on Israel,” said Khan.

Both Egypt and France have attempted to restart peace talks this year, to no avail. 

If the meeting between the two leaders does take place, it would represent a breakthrough of sorts.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies