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Foreign Policy

Can the US and China Break the Stalemate in the Middle East?

Jul 19 , 2013
  • Wu Sike

    Member on Foreign Affairs Committee, CPPCC

In the recently concluded second round of the Sino-US strategic dialogue on the Middle East issue, the two countries reached consensus on a number of hot-spot issues with regard to the peace process in the region. The Chinese side expressed appreciation of what the US had done for settling those issues and bringing about peace and stability in the region. It also expressed its willingness to strengthen communication and coordination with the US on the Middle East issue. The US side reaffirmed its commitment to the establishment of a cooperative partnership with China and said it would be happy to see China play a more active role in the Middle East.

The Middle East has been riddled with problems that kept getting on the world’s nerves – the chronic Palestinian problem, the Syrian crisis, the Iran nuclear controversy and the terrorist threats in northern Africa. Whether these problems will be settled matters a great deal not only to the Middle East security but also to the global peace. Given the spillover of the Syrian crisis and the humanitarian disasters in the area, it has become imperative to settle these hot issues politically through negotiations.

As a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, China is seriously committed to maintaining world peace and stability and has been proactive in advancing the Middle East peace process. Not long ago, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited China, almost at the same time, at the invitation of Chinese President Xi Jinping. In a bid to mediate for a revival of the peace talks between Israel and Palestine, Xi raised a four-point proposal for the solution of the Palestinian issue. To implement the proposal, China hosted the UN International Meeting in Support of Israeli-Palestinian Peace on June 18-19, which brought together officials and experts from more than 40 countries and international organizations. This writer went to the Middle East again as China’s special envoy for communication and coordination with relevant parties.

As a major promoter of the Middle East peace process, the United States has played a key role on the issue. Since taking office, US Secretary of State John Kerry has visited the region several times to mediate for reviving the talks between Israel and Palestine.

The peace talks are still bogged in a deadlock as neither side would budge from their positions. China supports the international community to make greater efforts to bring the two sides together for an earlier resumption of the peace talks.

China and the US can cooperate on the basis of the following understandings.

First, the establishment of a Palestinian state is an irreversible process. The UN Resolution No. 181 prescribes the establishment of an Arab state and a Jewish state. If the Middle East problem originated in the founding of The State of Israel, the problem won’t be resolved without the establishment of an independent state of Palestine; neither will Israel’s safety concerns be settled fundamentally.

Though international opinions differ on the Palestinian Authority’s move to submit the issue of establishing the state of Palestine to the United Nations, we should not simply regard it as an expedient Palestinians took to exert pressure on Israel. It is their legal right to found an independent state. After more than 20 years since the commencement of the Middle East peace process, Palestine has passed the stage of autonomy and entered the stage of state establishing. This is the inevitable outcome of the peace process. The Palestinian National Authority’s efforts in recent years to prepare for establishing the Palestinian state have won widespread support in the world.

Second, peace talks are the only way to solve the problem. This is the lesson drawn from the wars and peace the Middle East has experienced over the past decades. It is also a realistic choice given the balance of strength between Israel and Palestine. To establish an independent state in its true sense, Palestine needs cooperation from Israel. The final solution of the problems of refugees, border demarcation and Jerusalem’s status also needs bilateral negotiation and compromise.

Not long ago, I visited the Arab League’s headquarters and some Arab countries in the capacity of China’s special envoy to the Middle East. While expressing appreciation of China’s efforts, Jordan, Egypt and the Arab League voiced their expectation for an early solution of the dispute through peace talks. The Arab League secretary general emphasized that peace talks would be the only way out. He said Palestine and Arab countries would stick to the peace option. Israel also regards peace talks as the only way to the final solution of the Palestinian issue. Therefore, with their current and long-term interests in mind, neither Israel nor Palestine would give up the peace talks.

Third, pushing the two sides back to the track of peace talks is what the international community should do at the present. Though all relevant outsiders hold that peace talks should play the main role, there is not enough mutual trust between Israel and Palestine, whose stances are too far apart for the talks to resume. Without a strong push from outside, the peace process wouldn’t continue. The international community should make more concerted efforts to help the two sides overcome their mutual distrust so that the peace talks will be resumed soon. And it should also play a monitoring role to ensure that the peace talks proceed smoothly and achieve substantial progress.

As the 20th anniversary of the Oslo Agreement approaches, the international community should move immediately, out of a sense of urgency, to precipitate the Israel-Palestine peace talks. As permanent members of the UN Security Council, China and the US share consensus and interests in many aspects on the Middle East issue. Their cooperation, as well as that with other relevant parties, in the effort to bring about a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East will not only benefit the people in the region, but will also meet the long-term interests of their own.

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 Affair.

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