Israelis and Palestinians met last December in Beijing to talk about peace. They did this at a time when the US General Assembly was voting against the US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital and Palestinian Authority (PA) leaders were searching for a new mediator to replace US President Donald Trump, in whom they were disappointed. They went to China at the invitation of the Chinese Minister of Foreign Affairs in order to try to understand whether the increased interest in the Middle East and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict recently shown by China was translatable into a concrete contribution to the promotion of peace.
China already has a peace plan. The plan, which has four points, supports a two-state solution. The Chinese president launched it in 2013, and began emphasizing it again last summer. China also has a special envoy to the Middle East, who is pushing the Chinese plan and also tried to help end the fighting in the Gaza Strip. China is striving to achieve a two-state solution, with a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders and East Jerusalem as its capital, and consistently votes in favor of proposals along these lines at the UN. The Chinese Minister of Foreign Affairs, however, made it clear at a conference in Beijing that China is not a party in this conflict. The Chinese say that they are interested in helping find a solution that will provide rights for the Palestinians and security for Israel, recognize the importance of Jerusalem to all religions and ethnic groups, and promote regional stability.
Does China want to be active, or only to continue its mainly symbolic involvement in the Israeli-Palestinian theater? At a time of deadlock in the peace process and US initiatives that are making it difficult to resume negotiations, other countries willing to help and contribute are important. China can potentially play a useful role. The country is an ambitious power with growing global influence, good relations with both Israel and the Arab countries, and extraordinary economic capabilities. It is promoting large-scale international infrastructure projects, including in Israel and the Middle East.
In order to realize this potential, China can act in coordination with other countries in helping to form a new international mechanism. China does not regard itself as an alternative mediator to the US, but it is interested in being part of an international effort to promote peace. For example, China's views about a permanent settlement are similar to those of the European Union (EU) and the Arab League, and establishing a Chinese-European channel of dialogue on the Israeli-Palestinian issue will be a good opening point for Chinese involvement.
In addition, China can also offer an economic incentive for peace that will include a package of international incentives. China can enhance the infrastructure connection between Israel and the other countries in the region - it has been promoting its One Belt, One Road initiative in recent years. This is an ambitious transcontinental project for a 21st century Silk Road that will bolster China's global influence.
China can also grant support to Israeli and Palestinian organizations that support peace. At a conference in Beijing, the Chinese emphasized the importance that they attribute to people and organizations working unofficially to promote peace. As also proven in Beijing, the contribution of civil society to the peace process does not consist merely of holding meetings for dialogue and field activity; it also involves international political processes and help for politicians in reaching understandings and agreed formulations. China does not have great expertise in civil society, but it can provide substantial economic support to Israeli and Palestinian organizations that support peace and greatly improve infrastructure, visibility, and the effects thereof.
China's wish for greater involvement in promoting peace, as expressed at the conference in Beijing, is good and important, although it cannot by itself pave the way to peace. If this rising power takes advantage of its special advantages and capabilities, however, and acts in tandem with others, it can have a positive effect on a conflict that is leaving many countries at a loss.
Dr. Nimrod Goren is head of Mitvim - The Israel Institute for Regional Foreign Policies.
Published by Globes [online], Israel Business News - www.globes-online.com - on January 31, 2018
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