BETHLEHEM, West Bank -- Russian President Vladimir Putin said Tuesday that "unilateral acts" in the Middle East conflict were not constructive, remarks widely interpreted as a criticism of Israel's continued construction of West Bank settlements.
Putin made the statement from the West Bank city of Bethlehem, where he arrived following a one-day visit to Israel.
Speaking to the media after meeting Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, Putin said: “I am sure that all unilateral acts before there is a final solution are not constructive.” He urged Palestinians and Israelis to “show maximum restraint” and to stick to signed agreements.
While Putin did not specify any particular party, it was assumed he was talking about Israel’s settlement activities in the West Bank. Russia shares the dominant view of the international community that the settlements on territory seized by Israel during the 1967 Middle East War are illegal.
In Israel, Putin spoke about Iran and its nuclear arsenal. In the West Bank, he spoke about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and avoided all other issues, including the situation in neighboring Syria. He refused to take questions at a press appearance, which was limited to brief statements.
“We spoke about how to overcome the impasse in the Palestinian-Israeli peace process,” Putin said, praising Abbas for “taking responsible positions to reach a peaceful settlement based on the two-state solution.”
Abbas, on his part, reiterated the Palestinian position that “negotiations are the only road to peace,” and that Israel's “settlement activity remains a major obstacle to the peace process.”
He called on Putin to revive a years-old plan to convene an international peace conference on the Middle East in Moscow, adding that he also discussed with Putin the situation in the Arab region.
“We discussed the Arab situation because we know that this is important for Russia just as it is important for us,” he said.
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-- Maher Abukhater
Photo: Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas shake hands during a media briefing following their meeting Tuesday in the West Bank town of Bethlehem. Credit: Alexei Druzhinin, Presidential Press Service / RIA Novosti / Associated Press