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Palestinian Factions Seek Moscow Unity Amid Russia’s Gaza Role Bid

Palestinian factions, some of which have been in conflict for nearly two decades, are convening in Moscow to explore the formation of a new government, just days after the resignation of the Palestinian Authority government.

The primary aim of the two-day discussions is to bring together these factions under the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), a coalition that, in 1993, signed a peace treaty with Israel. The goal is to establish a new government within the Palestinian Authority (PA), as explained by Hussein Hamayel, spokesperson for the Fatah political party, in a statement to CNN on Wednesday.

Despite not being part of the PLO and not recognizing Israel, Hamas, currently engaged in a conflict with Israel in Gaza resulting in over 30,000 casualties, is participating in the talks, according to Russian media.

Khaled Elgindy, a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute in Washington DC, emphasized the significance of incorporating factions like Hamas into the PLO for its reform and legitimacy. Fatah currently holds dominance in both the PLO and the PA, established in the Israeli-occupied West Bank following the 1993 Oslo Accords.

The PA previously governed Gaza until 2007, when Hamas, winning the 2006 legislative elections, took control and expelled the PA from the strip. Since then, Hamas has ruled Gaza, while the PA governs parts of the West Bank.

PA Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki expressed hope for support toward a technocratic government during the Moscow talks but remained cautious about expecting “miracles.” He suggested that subsequent regional meetings might follow the Moscow discussions.

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Analysts believe that Hamas joining the PLO could be a significant step in unifying Palestinian factions and forming a consensus cabinet. The envisioned technocratic government, approved by all factions, would not include members affiliated with any particular political group.

While acknowledging the historical recognition of Israel by the PLO, analysts note that Hamas joining the bloc wouldn’t automatically imply recognition by Hamas. The move could, however, impact future diplomatic processes between the PLO and Israel by influencing potential concessions.

Hamas, in the past, expressed willingness to accept a Palestinian state within territories captured by Israel in the 1967 war but ruled out recognizing Israel. Israel rejects the prospect of the PA returning to Gaza post-war, opposing the U.S. push for a reformed PA governing both territories.

Khaled Elgindy highlighted that the main challenges to Hamas joining the PLO lie in negotiating its power within the grouping and addressing the issues related to its weapons and fighters. This process, he noted, poses significant difficulties as both dominant factions, Fatah and Hamas, would need to relinquish a measure of power for the sake of national unity.

Russia’s role

The talks also underscore Russia’s efforts to assume a more prominent role in the conflict. Moscow had offered mediation between Hamas and Israel shortly after the war commenced, emphasizing its connections with all regional stakeholders.

Despite 16 of its citizens being killed on October 7 in an attack by Hamas-led militants, Russia refrained from directly condemning the incident. This departure from its longstanding image as a peacemaker capable of engaging with all sides is considered a significant shift in public relations strategy, according to Anna Borshchevskaya, an expert on Russia’s Middle East policy at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

Russia has faced criticism for maintaining ties with Hamas without designating it as a terrorist organization, unlike most Western nations. Over the years, Russia has invited high-level Hamas delegations to Moscow for meetings with top officials while also exerting pressure on the group to alter its behavior.

By hosting these talks, Russia appears to be vying for control of the narrative in a conflict where Western rivals also have a stake, according to Borshchevskaya. She suggests that Russia is engaging in dialogue not just for its intrinsic value but as part of a broader battle for global narratives.

Borshchevskaya believes that Russian President Vladimir Putin is contributing to regional chaos with the aim of weakening the West and pro-Western forces. She asserts that Russia is gaining an advantage, both in the military battlespace and in the narrative realm, against Western powers.

Khaled Elgindy points out that Russia’s involvement in the conflict serves as a means to project power and expand influence in the Middle East at the expense of the United States. He notes that Russia’s unique position allows it to engage with all Palestinian factions, including Hamas, a diplomatic avenue that the U.S. and many Arab states are less inclined to pursue.

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