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Russian President Visits West Bank

  • Luis Ramirez

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, right, and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, left, shake hands at the end of a press conference in the West Bank town of Jericho, 18 Jan 2011

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has made a rare visit to the West Bank, where he reaffirmed Moscow's recognition of a Palestinian state.

With drums beating, schoolboys parading, and scores of people lining streets decked with Russian and Palestinian flags, the Russian leader's visit gave Palestinians a chance to show themselves as ready for statehood.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas welcomed Medvedev to Jericho, where the two signed a number of cooperation agreements. The Russian leader inaugurated a Russian art museum in the ancient town and pledged millions of dollars in development aid.

Medvedev recalled that in 1988, Russia, as part of the Soviet Union, was among the first in the world to recognize a Palestinian state. He said Moscow supported and will support what he described as the inalienable right of the Palestinian people to an independent state with its capital in east Jerusalem.

The words of reaffirmation are what Palestinian leaders have been hoping to hear from nations around the world as they seek international support for Palestinian statehood. It is a part of the strategy they are implementing as an alternative to stalled peace negotiations with Israel.

Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said there were no surprises in Medvedev's remarks. "There is no change here and there is no reason to be concerned," said Palmor. "What we are concerned about, however, is the Palestinians' attempts to evade all initiative to renew direct negotiations with Israel and instead rely on gathering as many expressions of a Palestinian state as possible."

Talks have been on hold since September when the Palestinians walked out after Israel refused to renew a construction freeze on Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank.

Medvedev had earlier planned a state visit to Israel, but that visit was canceled due to a labor strike by employees of the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

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