Palestinian-Israeli peace talks restarted in Washington, D.C. last week after almost three years of stalemate. It is a welcome move, but it has not come easy. The U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has visited the Middle East six times in the short space of six months since he assumed the office. He has been shuttling between Israel and Palestine, which has deeply impressed world people. During his sixth visit to the Middle East in particular, Mr. Kerry went out of his way to extend his stay in the region and met Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas three times respectively in order to narrow the gap between the two sides on the proposed restart of the installed peace talks and to mitigate their mutual hostility. In the three-day shuttle diplomacy, Kerry had six sessions with them on the Palestinian-Israeli peace talks, which added up to over 20 hours. At the crucial juncture, President Obama personally called on Benjamin Netanyahu, mediating for peace and encouraging peace talks, making an impressive effort for peace in the Middle East.
The situation in the Middle East is still complex and fragile. The Palestinian and Israeli leaders have taken an extraordinary significant step forward in taking into account the overall interests, disregarding interferences and agreeing to restart their peace talks. This will contribute considerably to the regional stability. Resumption of the Palestinian-Israeli peace talks conforms to the long-term and fundamental interests of both sides and also to the expectations of the countries in the region and the international community in general. To resume the peace talks is in the strategic interest of the United States in the Middle East and is also in the common interests of both Palestine and Israel. The reason is obvious. For the United States, to maintain a sound relationship with its allies such as Jordan in the region underpins its interests in the Middle East. The protracted volatile situation in the region could threaten the Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty and the Treaty of Peace between the State of Israel and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan and would adversely impact the United States’ Middle East strategy. Developments on the ground have forced the United States to speed up its efforts to bring the two sides back to the negotiation table for peace. The Palestinian issue is one of the sparks that would flare up Muslim agitation against Israel. In the context of the fluidity in the region, another conflict between Palestine and Israel could produce unimaginable consequences. Therefore, the United States cannot afford not to pay adequate attention to the Palestinian-Israeli issue, which is like hidden tides surging underneath. In the meantime, Israel is in need of a stable relationship with Palestine simply for the sake of its own security. Most of its neighboring countries have been plunged into turmoil, which has seriously prejudiced Israel’s security environment. If it falls foul with Palestine while surrounded by countries in turmoil that would endanger its own security. Furthermore, Palestine is unable to tide over its financial crisis and stop the building of Jewish settlements all on its own. Palestine wants to see an end to its internal political division and reverse its fragile economy. To this end, it has tried to inch toward statehood through “external forces”. This has become one of the main features of the Palestinian-Israeli peace talks. Palestine is in need of support from the United States and the extensive support of the international community.
It is the consensus of Palestine, Israel and the international community that dialogue and talks are the only viable way to settling the Palestinian-Israeli issue. China, a Permanent Member of the UN Security Council, has always attached great importance to its obligations for world peace and stability and made great efforts to advance the Middle East peace process. In May of this year, China hosted visits to China by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and by Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu. During their visits, President Xi Jinping offered a four-point proposal on the Palestinian issue, which was an important measure that China took to promote peace talks between Palestine and Israel. To follow up the four-point proposal, China hosted the UN International Meeting in Support of Palestinian-Israeli Peace in Beijing in June of this year. In fact, I visited the Middle East twice within one month as the Chinese special envoy to the Middle East for the very purpose of promoting Palestinian-Israeli peace talks, maintaining the momentum of the international community for mediating peace in the Middle East and encouraging both sides to move toward each other.
Nevertheless, the positions of Palestine and Israel are still far apart. What is the core concern of Palestine is to build an independent state along the 1967 border while that of Israel is its long-term security. Given the gap between the two sides in their positions and expectations, the road to peace talks will by no means be plain sailing, but rather covered with thorns. However, a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. When opportunity knocks, both Palestine and Israel should seize the precious opportunity, signal good will and sincerity for peace and ensure that substantive progress be made in the forthcoming peace talks. On the other hand, the international community should encourage the two sides to seek peace based on two separate states through talks.
I sincerely believe that the statehood of Palestine represents the general trend of times. According to the United Nations General Assembly Resolution 181, “the UN General Assembly decided on partition of Palestine into Jewish and Arab states”. The current Middle East conflict was set off by the creation of Israel. So if an independent State of Palestine is not to be built, the Middle East conflict would not be dissolved and the security of Israel would not be ensured. It is the lawful rights of the Palestinian people to build an independent state. The Palestinian side has moved from the self-government stage to a stage for Palestinian statehood. It is an inevitable development in the Middle East peace process and also a precursor to the implementation of the “plan for two separate states”. The Palestinian National Authority has made efforts to build up capabilities in recent years and prepare for Palestinian statehood, which has won extensive international support.
Secondly, the Palestinian-Israeli issue should be solved through peaceful negotiation in a step-by-step manner. What is pressing and imperative now is to take practical measures to stop building new settlements, stop using force against innocent civilians, lift the Gaza Strip embargo and properly solve the Palestinian prisoner issue. At the same time, the Israeli security concerns should be taken care of. All violence against civilians should be stopped. In addition, the international community should intensify its support to Palestine in the latter’s efforts to develop economy, create more jobs and improve the living standards of the Palestinian people. These measures will help ease the sufferings of the Palestinian people and increase their confidence in the peace process.
Lastly, the international mechanism for peace should be enhanced. Even though all parties to the conflict agree that peace talks should serve as the main channel for the final solution to the Middle East issue, it is no easy job to bridge the gap between Palestine and Israel in their positions on the issue, given the lack of mutual trust between them. Without a forceful external push, the peace process would be difficult to sustain. Major players in the international community should increase their input and coordination, improve the peace-making mechanism, form synergy and encourage both Palestine and Israel to build up mutual trust and get rid of obstacles. They should serve as a force to ensure, facilitate and monitor the said peace talks between Palestine and Israel for the benefit of real progress in this regard.
The peace talks between Israel and Palestine, once resumed, serve the common interest of China and the United States. The two countries have made tremendous efforts for this and will continue to do so. In these new circumstances, China and the United States as well as the international community in general should enhance a sense of urgency, build up positive energy, intensify efforts to persuade both sides into making peace, facilitate the realization of the “plan for two separate states” and bring about a just, lasting and comprehensive peace in the Middle East at an earlier date.
Wu Sike is the Chinese special envoy to the Middle East.