Russia backs referendum on establishing Palestinian state alongside Israel

Russia supports Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' idea of holding a referendum on establishing a Palestinian state alongside Israel, the foreign minister said Friday.

Abbas was expected Saturday to announce a date in late July for the plebiscite. Hamas, the militant group that now governs the Palestinian Authority and rejects Israel's right to exist, opposes the referendum, and says holding such a vote will divide the Palestinian people.

Opinion polls show the referendum and the two-state proposal enjoy widespread support.

"We hope that the Palestinians will voice their opinion clearly and definitively and that the results will bring closer the goal I mentioned, the creation of an independent Palestinian state," Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told reporters.

Abbas, whose Fatah party was defeated by Hamas in January elections after dominating Palestinian politics for four decades, is eager to restart long-stalled peace talks with Israel. He was elected separately to the presidency in an earlier vote.

But the prospect for peace talks is slim, as Israel insists that Hamas renounce violence and recognize Israel before any talks with Abbas could begin. Hamas has refused to temper its radical ideology.

"We actively support efforts that are being made to establish national dialogue between all the Palestinian groups and believe that it is quite important that these efforts end in national accord," Lavrov said.

"Such an accord, including the question of how to renew the peace process, will have a decisive meaning for achieving the goal that we all want to achieve, the soonest creation of an independent, sovereign Palestinian state," he said.

Russia is seeking to boost its role in the Middle East peace process. It insists that Hamas should not be isolated and hosted a high-level Hamas delegation earlier this year, reports AP.

O.Ch.