Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu agreed "in principle" to meet in Moscow to relaunch Mideast peace talks after a two-plus-year hiatus, Russia's Foreign Ministry announced Thursday, though the AP reports that it's not clear when. "The most important thing is to pick the right timing," ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told reporters. "Intensive contacts on this are ongoing." The comments indicate that Russia is pushing forward with its efforts to host the meeting; Abbas said this week a meeting in Moscow had been postponed at Israel's request. Abbas and Netanyahu exchanged a brief handshake last year at a climate-change conference in Paris but haven't held a public working meeting since 2010.
The key stumbling block is the agenda: Abbas has said he'd meet only if Israel freezes settlement construction on lands claimed by Palestinians and honors a previously agreed-on release of Palestinian prisoners. Netanyahu has rejected the terms and said a meeting should take place without conditions. Any meeting between the two would be a breakthrough of sorts: The last round of US-brokered peace talks broke down more than two years ago. But with Abbas and Netanyahu at odds on nearly every major issue, chances for substantial progress seem slim. If a meeting were to take place, it would reflect growing Russian influence in the Middle East. The Russian military has sent fighter jets to Syria to back President Bashar al-Assad in his fight against rebels. Israel, while largely staying out of it, maintains close contact with Russia to avoid clashes between their air forces. (Read more Israel and Palestinians stories.)