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OPINION

China Doesn't Understand a Complex Mideast

china israel and the middle east

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Micah Halpern By Monday, 26 June 2023 04:59 AM EDT Current | Bio | Archive

Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas recently wrapped up a multi-day state visit to China.

Abbas’ lasttrip to China was in 2017.

What seems — on the surface, to be standard diplomatic behavior is anything but —standard.

With this visit, Abbas took a step, a large step, towards further enabling China to fulfill their ambitious plan to become a significant player in the Middle East.

In true Chinese style, one of their objectives in becoming a Mideast player is to wrestle away Western influence from the region.

Minimizing the West gives Chinese leadership great pleasure.

Cementing relations with the Palestinian Authority, siding with Palestinians on issues, in effect elbows the United States out of the Mideast.

And despite a very impressive trade relationship between China and Israel in the areas of technology, bio-med, science and trade it signals that in other matters, China will side with the Palestinians.

Beijing wants to be the central force managing talks between Palestinians and Israel. But what China has no interest in doing in order to achieve that lofty objective is to maintain an air of impartiality.

Like the president of the Palestinian Authority, the last time an Israeli prime minister was invited for a state visit to China was in 2017.

Six years later, in 2023, it is only Abbas, not Netanyahu, who was invited back.

President Abbas’ visit to Beijing comes on the coattails of China successfully managing to bridge the gaping chasm between Iran and Saudi Arabia.

Once thought of as an impossible dream, the deal Beijing brokered has now culminated in the opening of embassies and the exchanging of ambassadors between these traditional rivals.

Their conflict dates back hundreds of years.

Each represents contrary understandings of true Islam. Each views the other as heretic.

Iran and Saudi Arabia are the respective leaders of the Shiite-Sunni split on Islam.

Enemies to the core who would for centuries stab each other in the back — literally and figuratively, they are now diplomatically allied.

And in 1979, when the Islamic Revolution in Iran resulted in the ousting of the Western oriented Shah, the division between the two countries became even more dramatic. For the next forty years, in regional conflict after conflict, Iran and Saudi Arabia were on opposite and opposing sides.

China’s desire to become a big player in the Mideast has been building.

The Chinese have been methodically wooing the Palestinian Authority. When China and Saudi Arabia convened a summit in December of 2022 Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was invited.

The invite was not proffered because the ailing octogenarian leader of the Palestinians had great diplomatic insight to offer China and Saudi Arabia.

He was invited because China wanted to let the Saudis and the Palestinians in on their intentions. They wanted to telegraph to the region that they, China, was sitting in the driver’s seat.

For Abbas’ visit to Beijing the Chinese foreign ministry expertly crafted a message which showcasing their intentions.

Their statement announced that Abbas is "the first Arab head of state to be hosted by China this year. This speaks volumes about the high-level friendly relations between China and Palestine . . . China will continue to work with the international community for a comprehensive, just and enduring solution to the Palestinian question at an early date."

Very simple, immensely significant.

Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang added that, "China supports the resumption of peace talks between Palestine and Israel as soon as possible on the basis of the 'two-state solution,' and is willing to play an active role in this regard."

Again, simple and even more significant.

In what appeared to be two out-of-the-blue, but back-to-back phone calls in April, Qin spoke with both Israel’s Foreign Minister Eli Cohen and Palestine’s Minster of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates Riyadh al-Maliki. Qin told both men, separately, that China was " concerned" about escalating tensions between Israel and Palestinians.

And China’s foreign minister and urged them both to resume peace talks toward "the two-state solution."

To Israel’s foreign minister Qin saidIt, " is never too late to do the right thing. China encourages Israel and Palestine to show political courage, and take a step forward to resume peace talks, and China is ready to facilitate efforts in this direction."

The West cannot underestimate the impact of China’s involvement in the region. The Chinese understand the value of their investment.

They know that despite the momentum and the success of the Abraham Accords, there is still deep resentment towards Israel.

Beijing understands the vast amount of credibility they amass across the region with their small gestures. Gestures that cost them relatively nothing and earn them important dividends on multiple levels in the region.

And as a bonus, they are hurting the United States.

While China fully realizes that their actions hurt Israel, Beijing has calculated that, regardless of political machinations, Israel still needs and wants their trade. Their calculation is probably sound.

What China does not fully understand is the complexity of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.

Like many in Europe, the Chinese believe that the boundaries of the 1967 Six Days War should be the framework for any deal.

They envision East Jerusalem as the capital of the Palestinian State.

If it were that simple, peace between Israel and the Palestinians would have been forged a long time ago. If it were so simple it would have happened already.

Micah Halpern is a political and foreign affairs commentator. He founded "The Micah Report" and hosts "Thinking Out Loud with Micah Halpern," a weekly TV program, and "My Chopp," a daily radio spot. Follow him on Twitter @MicahHalpern. Read Micah Halpern's Reports — More Here.

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MicahHalpern
True to China's style, one of their objectives in becoming a Mideast player is to wrestle away Western influence. The Chinese envision East Jerusalem as the capital of the Palestinian State.
abbas, palestinian, pa
940
2023-59-26
Monday, 26 June 2023 04:59 AM
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