China’s President Xi Jinping and Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas attend a welcoming ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on June 14. AFP
In yet another milestone in its journey towards numero uno in world affairs, China has invited Palestinian Authority President Mahmud Abbas for a state visit connected to an ambitious peace initiative. The Palestinian leader arrived on Tuesday for a four-day visit.
China’s invitation to Abbas is an image-boosting diplomatic push to gain recognition as a responsible superpower and genuine peacemaker. Due to its diplomatic finesse, Beijing will not openly admit that it will be taking the United States head-on in a clash for the world’s top peacemaker title. Beijing knows well that the US cannot afford to object to China’s peace initiative and be labelled as anti-peace.
China’s current peace initiative focusing on the Israeli-Palestinian crisis is different from its secret peace initiative involving Iran and Saudi Arabia. This time, China was open about its actions and kept Washington informed.
Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang has spoken to US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, affirming that Beijing and Washington should put aside their differences to ensure stability between Israel and Palestine. He also said the US must refrain from creating obstacles for China for the sake of competition. The matter will be discussed with Blinken when he visits Beijing next week.
Taking a swipe at US Middle Eastern diplomacy, China’s Communist Party newspaper Global Times said on Wednesday that more and more regional countries had found that the US policy on Middle East issues, including the Palestine-Israel dispute, the Iranian nuclear deal, and the Syrian crisis, was unreliable and unsustainable.
“Not only has the US failed to solve regional problems to bring peace and development to the region, but it has added more tensions and chaos, which is causing regional countries to lose faith in the US and expect China to play a greater role in promoting peace, stability and development in the region,” the newspaper quoted analysts as saying.
Seeking one-upmanship, rival superpowers compete not only in hard power but also in soft power. With China on an express track to catch up with the United States in the hard-power game, it now feels the time has come for it to raise its stakes in the soft-power game also.
The US is concerned about Beijing’s expanding influence in a region that it has been jealously guarding as an exclusive US diplomatic territory.
If the US is gnashing its teeth and stomping its feet over China’s peace diplomacy in the Middle East, it is solely because of its own doing. It failed to play the honest broker role expected of a responsible superpower. On the contrary, it has openly shown its bias towards Israel and turned a blind eye to the injustice caused to the Palestinian people. If only the US had taken Israel to task over its occupation of the Palestinian territory and its crimes against humanity as and when they took place, peace would have dawned in the Middle East a long time ago.
But who wants peace in the Middle East? More conflicts in the wealthy regions mean more business for the military-industrial complex alias the arms dealers.
Calling itself an honest broker, the US first attempted to broker peace between Israel and Palestine in 1979 through the Camp David Agreement between Israel and Egypt. Then, in 1991, it convened the Madrid peace conference with the aim of normalising relations between Israel and the Arab States and between Israel and the Palestinians in keeping with United Nations Security Council resolutions 242 (1967) and 338 (1973).
Then came the 1993 Norwegian peace initiative, or the Oslo Accord, according to which Palestine was to be declared an independent state within five years of signing the agreement. The US was expected to be the guarantor of the deal, but it lacked the willpower to reprimand Israel when it violated the agreement.
The Palestinians were given one false hope after another by the US, even as the Oslo deal was being dumped in the dustbin of history by Israel’s hardline prime ministers and politicians. The United States’ insincere peace moves included the formation of a peace quartet—the US, European Union, Russia, and the UN—and President George W. Bush’s Road Map, which he put forward to silence Arab opposition to his illegal and resource-plundering war on Iraq in 2003.
It is against this backdrop that China has entered the Middle Eastern peace arena. It has already made the impossible possible when it successfully brokered its first-ever global peace deal between Iran and Saudi Arabia.
There is much global interest in knowing how China made history by bringing together Middle Eastern archrivals. Unfortunately, very little has been revealed about China’s behind-the-scenes activities in the run-up to the Iran-Saudi handshake. The deal is seen as a severe setback to the US, which was benefiting from the Saudi-Iran rivalry by portraying Iran as a bogey, promoting arms deals, and forcing the Arab states to abandon the Palestinian cause and normalise relations with Israel.
On Wednesday, Beijing announced that it had established a “strategic partnership” with the Palestinian Authority. In a state reception accorded to the visiting Palestinian leader, China’s President Xi Jinping noted that Abbas’s visit, the first by an Arab leader this year, demonstrated the high level of bilateral relations between Palestine and China.
He said China was willing to play a positive role in finding a lasting solution to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute through talks, which involve a newly proposed “three-point solution.” It calls for an independent Palestine based on the 1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital; increased development and humanitarian assistance to Palestinians, and the creation of conditions for peace talks through large-scale international meetings.
Already, China has appointed a special envoy to meet Israeli leaders.
A Chinese Communist Party spokesperson described Palestinian leader Abbas as an “old and good friend of the Chinese people,” adding that Beijing had always supported the Palestinians in acquiring their national rights.
China, which was one of the first countries to recognize the State of Palestine, has been a staunch supporter of the Palestinian freedom cause and has voted in favour of UN resolutions condemning Israeli excesses. Though Beijing has, in recent years, intensified its diplomatic contacts with Tel Aviv, it has made it clear that this will not come at the cost of its relations with Palestine.
With the US cutting a sorry figure as a dishonest peace broker and with the China-brokered Saudi-Iran peace deal reaping peace dividends in the form of Syria’s re-entry to the Arab League and the de-escalation of the war in Yemen, hope rises high in the Middle East for a China-brokered initiative for Israeli-Palestinian peace.
Peace-loving people the world over hope that there is no sabotage by the US, the jealous superpower. But unlike the Iran-Saudi peace deal, resolving the Israeli-Palestinian crisis is complicated by several factors. They include Israel’s unwillingness to return East Jerusalem and other occupied areas to the Palestinians, the rightful owners of the land.