The Palestinian Authority has rejected Western requests to officially condemn Russia for the invasion of Ukraine. 

Instead, the PA, which has traditionally had strong ties with Russia, insists on displaying neutrality in the ongoing conflict between Ukraine and Russia. 

Ramallah views Russia as a strong supporter of the Palestinian cause and does not want to risk alienating Moscow in the ongoing Ukraine war, a conflict far away from the Middle East. 

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a PA official explained Ramallah’s position to Al Monitor news website.

“The Palestinian leadership does not have to take a stance on the Ukrainian crisis, which could entail negative repercussions we are better off without,” the official stated. 

Ahmed Majdalani, a member of the PLO Executive Committee, told Al Monitor that Ramallah was in favor of diplomatic solutions to conflicts. 

“The PA is all for resolving conflicts through diplomatic and political solutions, and supports the rights of self-determination for peoples,” Majdalani said. 

Perhaps more striking, Majdalani seemed to articulate the PA’s fear that the war in Ukraine has pushed the Arab-Israeli conflict to the sidelines. 

“Our position is clear. The ongoing war in Ukraine is an international conflict that does not have any positive repercussions on the Palestinian cause. The world’s attention is now riveted at the crisis, while the Palestinian cause has been relayed to the background,” Majdalani said. 

“We are of course concerned about the humanitarian situation, but we maintain warm ties with both parties and we don’t have the luxury of picking sides like many stronger countries do,” another PA official recently told The Times of Israel. 

Israel has its own reasons for refraining from taking sides in the war, however, following U.S. pressures and with support from Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, Israel voted in favor of a recent UN resolution condemning Russia. Moscow expressed its disappointment with Jerusalem’s decision to condemn the Russian invasion of Ukraine. 

By contrast, the PA has consistently refused to take sides in the Ukraine conflict. Riyad al-Maliki, Ramallah’s Foreign Minister, admitted that the PA has been under American and European pressure to condemn Russia. On Palestine TV on Tuesday, he explained the PA’s unwillingness to take sides in an interview.

“Unlike Israel, which is the stronger party in our conflict, we don’t have the luxury of taking sides,” al-Maliki said.

The PA’s top diplomat also justified Ramallah’s evasive position by blaming the Israeli “occupation” and stressing that “a state under occupation could not be expected to pick a side in such a fight.”

The PA appears to believe that the global focus on the Ukraine war is damaging Ramallah’s cause. 

Nihad Abu Ghosh, a Ramallah-based political analyst, told The Media Line that Israel is “using wars to increase settlement building in the occupied West Bank by promoting immigration.”

Similar claims were made during the large Soviet Russian immigration wave to Israel in the 1990s when PLO warned that Soviet Jews would move into Jewish communities in the West Bank. Most of the largely secular Soviet Jewish immigrants ended up living in large Israeli cities such as Tel Aviv, Haifa and Netanya instead.

While Israel is politically and economically linked to the U.S. and the West, the PLO has a history of deep ties with Russia long before Vladimir Putin became Russia’s president. In 2016, researchers from the Hebrew University discovered a Soviet-era document that listed PLO chief Mahmoud Abbas as a former KGB agent. The document identified Abbas by the codename “Krotov,” which means mole. 

“Krotov – Abbas, Mahmoud, born 1935, origin Palestine, member of the executive committee of Fatah, PLO, Damascus, agent of the KGB,” the document says. 

Ramallah denies that Abbas was a KGB agent and said this was a smear campaign against the PLO leader. However, University of Cambridge’s Churchill Archives Centre confirmed that the document was authentic and had reportedly been smuggled to Great Britain by the defector Vasili Mitrokhin. 

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