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Israeli leaders court Moscow

MOSCOW, Nov. 1 (JTA) – Israeli politicians appear to have found a new venue to lobby for an end to the Palestinian uprising: Moscow.

“Russia has the possibility and the strength to help regulate the situation in our region,” Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak last week told a popular Moscow radio outlet owned by Russian Jewish leader Vladimir Goussinsky.

The visits appear to indicate that Israel believes Russia, a financial supporter of Arab and Palestinian causes during the Cold War, might be able to influence with Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat in the current crisis.

Several of Barak’s allies, including Cabinet minister Shimon Peres and Roman Bronfman, an Israeli Knesset minister who is a Russian emigre, also visited Russia last week.

Both met with top Russian officials, including Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, and gave news conferences on the possibility of enhancing Russia’s role in the Middle East peace process.

Peres also talked to Ivanov about the possibility of Russia pressing the Lebanon-based Hezbollah to release Israeli soldiers captured last month.

Israeli politics are also at play here – especially because many people now hold dual Russian-Israeli citizenship.

When Barak called Russian President Vladimir Putin on Oct. 24 and asked him to put pressure on Arafat to end violence, he knew that former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – who appears to be planning a political comeback – landed in Moscow that very night with a similar message.

In interviews with all of Russia’s major television channels, Netanyahu stressed the common struggle Russia and Israel share in combating Islamic terrorism – Israel in the Middle East and Russia in Chechnya, where it is fighting a war with Islamic separatists.

“We have the same Chechnya, except that Israeli Chechnya is located not 2,000 miles away as in Russia, but only 200 meters away from our houses,” said Netanyahu, who also met with Ivanov during his three-day visit.

Not to be outdone, several Palestinian envoys have also been busy wooing Russian officials.

Using their old contacts from the Soviet era, the envoys are attempting to counteract the Israeli comparison of the situation in the Middle East with the conflict in Chechnya.

The analogy is false since Chechnya is “an internal business of Russia, whereas Palestine is a territory, occupied by the Israeli army and has to be freed according to U.N. resolutions,” the Palestinian ambassador to Russia, Khayri al-Oridi, said at a recent news conference.

Also, Palestinian students and local Muslims have demonstrated outside the Israeli Embassy in Moscow, carrying posters calling for the destruction of the Jewish state.

Putin, who several times last year compared Russian military efforts in Chechnya to those of Israel and of the West in fighting Islamic terrorism, appears to be taking his time in taking an official stance.

Sources in the Foreign Ministry say Moscow is trying to develop a “balanced” position.

A Moscow university student with a double Russian-Israeli citizenship is pessimistic that Israel will find support in the Kremlin. “I can’t understand what Israeli politicians are seeking here. Russians will follow the European countries in supporting the Arabs simply because of their oil and money, as they have always done,” said Zhenya Krukovskaya.

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