The smoke of gunpowder is receding from the Gaza Strip. But people’s concern over the conflicts triggered by the ‘Pillar of Defense’ operation launched by Israel is not over. Israel’s 8-day military operation ended with more than 1,200 casualties in the Gaza Strip, while Israel suffered five deaths and some property damage. Thanks to Egypt, the United States and the Arab League, Israel and Hamas agreed to a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip, a decision welcomed by all parties concerned. As a close ally, the United States gave its firm support for Israel’s launch of the ‘Pillar of Defense’ operation, as evidenced by its deployment of three warships and over 4,000 troops off the coast of Israel during the conflict with Hamas. The US did this for two purposes: to display its ability to keep the Middle East situation under control, and to maintain Israel’s safety. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton even stopped short of her visit to three Asian countries and rushed to Israel to mediate over the escalating conflicts in the Gaza Strip, winning great appreciation from Israel’s ruling and opposition parties.
What is noteworthy, however, is that Israel and Hamas both claimed to be the winner. Israel based its claim on key facts: First, it killed Hamas’ military leader Jabari and destroyed large quantities of Hamas military facilities. Second, it tested Egypt and other Arab states’ attitude. Third, it further deepened its ties with the United States by field testing its Iron Dome missile defense system, a system that it has been so proud of and that has received so much support from the United States. Hamas also had good grounds to support its claim. First of all, it demonstrated the growth of its military strength and elevated its position and weight as a political force. Having obviously gained an upper edge in its contest with Al Fatah, the mainstream Palestinian force, it has further consolidated its position in the Gaza Strip. Secondly, it has won extensive sympathy and support from the Arab world, and deepened its relations, in particular, with Egypt, Tunisia, and the Arab League, achievements that signified a diplomatic victory. Finally, it won a ceasefire by negotiating within an international framework, further securing its legality.
Whoever the true winner, the conflicts in the Gaza Strip will have an extensive and profound influence on the turbulent situation in the Middle East. Due to the complexity of the Middle East contradictions and the relentless contest between different forces, the Palestinian problem – the key issue in the Middle East – has been marginalized and almost totally buried under the waves of regime changes over the recent two years. The recent outbreak of the conflicts in the Gaza Strip has once again brought into the spotlight the importance and urgency to seek an immediate solution for the Palestinian issue because, with a close bearing on the overall situation in the Middle East, this issue may instigate conflicts in the region if not solved quickly. For Israel, a constant concern about the growing challenge to its safety during the violent turbulence and changes sweeping across the region has kept it observing a ‘strategy of silence.’ Obviously, its latest abnormal move and instant acceptance of a mediated ceasefire have something to do with the general election coming in January 2013 and its aspiration for lasting peace and safety. Still viewing Iran as the biggest threat and most serious danger in the Middle East, it has hoped to further weaken this potential troublemaker by striking at Hamas and frightening Hezbollah, thus moving itself out of the central stage of contradictions and directing the attention of various parties away from Syria. All these efforts will give it some leeway to take action against Iran in the future. In the Israeli eye, Egypt and the Morsi government is a radical anti-Israel regime because, for more than 10 years, the Muslim Brotherhood has pursued the goal of creating an Islamic Caliphate, a move closely watched by Israel.
On November 29, Israel came into another tangle with Palestine. With the arena relocated from the Middle East to the United Nations, the rival Israel contended with this time was Palestinian National Authority President Mahmoud Abbas bidding for his state’s UN membership. Many countries have recently expressed their support for Palestine’s application for UN membership. The United States and Israel, however, voiced their strong opposition and even tried to scare Abbas into a withdrawal. Seeing the interests of the Palestinians, however, Abbas could only move forward instead of backing away. Once submitted for UN voting, the bid for Palestine’s “observer state” status was overwhelmingly adopted.
It can be said, therefore, that the crux is still there and the crisis of danger still lurks in all corners despite the hard-won ceasefire, a situation that calls for not only temporary improvement but also a permanent solution. For the purpose of seeking an impartial solution of the Palestine-Israel issue, China has worked enthusiastically for years and kept in close contact and communication with the United States, partially evidenced by its launch of strategic dialogues with the United States on the Middle East issue this year. This author also paid a visit to the United States in October to exchange views with the US Special Envoy to the Middle East and other high-ranking US officials in charge of Middle East affairs, with a consensus achieved on the peaceful settlement of the Middle East disputes and the safeguard of stability in this region. China supports Palestine in its effort to seek an upgrade of its UN status from an ‘entity’ to a non-member state, seeing it as a vital step toward resumption of peace talks, solution of the Palestinian issue on a ‘two-country’ basis, and achievement of coexistence between Palestine and Israel and lasting peace in the whole region.
The Palestinian-Israeli dispute is one of the key issues plaguing the Middle East, and one of the major ferments behind the ongoing turbulence in this region. Since an impartial and peaceful solution of this issue is vital to the stability of the region, the international community should pool its efforts and work enthusiastically for an impartial, peaceful, thorough and perpetual solution.
Wu Sike is a member on the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference and member on the Foreign Policy Consulting Committee of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs