Prosperity best hope for Palestine-Israel peace

By Shu Meng Source:Global Times Published: 2017/7/13 17:38:39

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will pay a four-day state visit to China starting from Monday at the invitation of his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping. Palestine has been hoping for China's mediation in its prolonged conflict with Israel. Abbas visited China several times, pinning high hopes on China to play a more active role. Many in the international community have chimed in, calling on Beijing to intervene in the Middle East mess.

For the perennial conflict between Israel and Palestine, it seems there are only two solutions. One is through external intervention, which US President Donald Trump has already tried. He blithely asserted that peace in the Middle East is "not as difficult as people have thought." However, a lack of power prevents Washington from exerting a decisive role on the predicament and balancing the interests-based relationship between the two sides. Moreover, Trump's pendulous Middle East policy only complicated the situation.

Therefore, external intervention by a big power won't work at the moment, with Trump's policy toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict gradually returning to the conventional stance adopted by his predecessors.

Israel announced earlier that it would establish thousands of settlement units in controversial East Jerusalem, effectively putting an end to Trump's peace efforts.

The other solution depends on Israel and Palestine themselves. Forcible intervention is beyond doubt contrary to the current of the times. That's not to mention that numerous wars between the two sides all ended up in vain.

Peace talks, the only remaining feasible method, are also difficult for now. The two states are mired in irreconcilable historical leftovers like the issues of refugees, settlements and Jerusalem, as well as new conflicts over tariffs and the inscription of the Old City of Hebron on the world heritage list. These problems keep agitating sensitive and strained relations. In addition, ultra-Orthodox Jews still play a crucial role in Israeli politics. In Palestine, the two major political parties remain in confrontation.

The Palestinians witnessed the assassination of former Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin and the war in Gaza, reminding current and future politicians that peace talks, even when embarking on the right track, will likely come to a standstill as long as the ultra-Orthodox refuse to compromise and the internal reconciliation within Palestine fails.

Therefore, unlike US attempts at high-profile intervention, China has been developing friendly relations with both sides in multiple areas, especially economic cooperation, with the aim of backing the Palestinian liberation cause. China has been promoting peace negotiations while helping with regional development.

Beijing is a long-time provider of economic assistance to Palestine to improve its people's livelihood. When Xi visited Egypt and the Arab League last year, he pledged 50 million yuan ($7.36 million) in humanitarian aid to Palestine. China also helped it build a solar-power station and a stadium.

Promoting peace through development might be a long-term cure. Given the unsolvable internal contradictions, an unstable external landscape, and a global focus on other conflicts in the region that has marginalized the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a lightening war assisted by an external force will fail. Peace between the two sides depends on patient, long-term efforts. If they fail to share a future, there will never be a foundation for peace.

Despite the repeated calls for Beijing to play a bigger role in this difficult problem, Beijing shall not change its policy. Instead of being a mediator fishing for fame and credit, China should continue acting as a low-key, long-lasting driving force for Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation.

The author is an assistant researcher at the Middle East Studies Institute of Shanghai International Studies University.

Posted in: VIEWPOINT

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