On 14 June 2023, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas undertook an official and noteworthy visit to China. This marks his fifth official trip to China, and the invitation extended by President Xi Jinping demonstrates the significance attached to this visit. President Abbas was warmly received at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, where a grand welcome ceremony, complete with full military honours, was held in his honour. It is particularly noteworthy that China has chosen to host the first Arab head of state this year, further underscoring the importance of this visit.

By Anmol Kumar

During the visit, an important milestone was achieved as the bilateral relationship between Palestine and China was elevated to the status of a strategic partnership. This further solidified the diplomatic ties between the two nations in 1988. President Xi met his Palestinian counterpart last year in Riyadh during the first China-Gulf Council Cooperation summit and promised to “work for an early, just and durable solution to the Palestinian cause.”

China’s True Intent Behind the Israel-Palestine Peace Deal

After mediation regarding the restoration of ties between Riyadh and Tehran and a failed attempt at the Russia-Ukraine conflict, this is the third attempt by Chinese President Xi Jinping to project himself as a ‘man of peace.’ Israel-Palestine is a perfect issue to upgrade his image from ‘wolf warrior’ to statesman. Palestine is a political and emotional issue in the Arab world and the world alike. Mediating the Israel-Palestine conflict settlement might enhance the substantial foothold of China in West Asia and mitigate the US presence in the region. Stable West Asia is also crucial for Chinese business and regional projects. Chinese interests and stakes are very high in West Asia to make military and economic footprints on the world stage.

Equations are not Favourable 

Taking note of the unprecedented changes in the world and fresh development in West Asia, China is trying to set a strong foot in the region through various tactics. One such tactic is to break the peace agreement between two rival states. China successfully did it between Saudi Arabia and Iran in March of 2023 and wants to do it again between Israel and Palestine. Qin Gang promised to support Israel-Palestine talks at the foreign minister’s meeting. He said, “ President Xi stressed to firmly promote a political settlement of the Palestinian question based on the two-state solution and to strengthen international efforts to peaceful settlement. As a permanent member of the UN Security Council, China will continue working hard with the international community for a comprehensive, just and lasting settlement of the Palestinian question at an early date.”

The Israel-Palestine conflict needs a plan and proper implementation for a durable peace. The precondition is having Israel and Palestine on the negotiating table, which is impossible without ‘leverage’. Does China have that leverage over Israel? The answer is in a complicated equation. China signed a 25-year cooperation agreement with Israel’s biggest adversary Iran in the region. China is also in conflict with the US, and Israel has been a designated non-NATO ally of the US since 1987. Convergence and divergence among states are an inalienable part of International Relations that depends on alignment and non-alignment of mutual national interests or the presence and absence of a common enemy among the states. Convergence happens when national interests align, or there is a presence of a common adversary among them. In the case of Israel-Palestine, Israel might not have a significant mutual national interest aligned with China.

At the same time, China’s adversary (the US) is an ally of Israel, and Israel’s adversary (Iran) is a strategic partner of China. The presence of a common enemy creates a favourable ground for convergence. For example, the convergence between the USSR and Germany after the first world war, the USSR and the US during the second world war, and Russia and China in the present time. Hence, the peace agreement is likely to be brokered by China between Israel and Palestine in the coming years due to the divergence that arises from the non-alignment of national interests and the absence of a common enemy among these three states.

Imbalances on the Negotiation Table 

In 1964, the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) was created to represent the Palestinian people. The initial aim of the PLO was to destroy Israel and establish a Palestine state. Yasser Arafat used military tactics toward this end, including attacks on Israeli civilians. This changed in 1993 when the PLO accepted Israel’s right to exist in exchange for recognizing Israel as the legitimate representative of Palestinians. That was the beginning of real peace negotiations between the two sides.

In the late 90s, a militant organization, Hamas, was founded as an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, which controls Gaza. Due to the fundamentalist and hard-line approach, it has poor relations with the PLO, resulting in fragmentation in Palestinian representations. This includes the long-standing split between Fatah’s control of the West Bank and Hamas’ control of Gaza and challenges to Fatah’s authority within the West Bank. Because of Palestinian weakness, Palestinian Authority’s desire to “internationalize” the conflict and bring in more external actors to confront Israeli might is a non-starter.

Israel has been a formidable force in the region and has consolidated its hold in terms of power and prestige by focusing on political, social and economic development. Through hard power, it has shown its might/capabilities by defeating the Arab states in several wars ( Egypt, Jordan and Syria) and annexing their territories (West Bank, Gaza Strip and Golan Heights).  In terms of Soft power, it has established diplomatic relations with different countries and became a member of various International and Regional organizations, which brought international recognition. All these components make Israel a stronger party on the negotiation table. Israeli strength and Palestinian weakness create an imbalance on the negotiating table, facilitating Israel to impose terms on Palestinians. Meanwhile, Israel is unlikely to change its current arrangements, in which the United States serves as the primary third-party mediator. That situation benefits Israel greatly, not least since Washington has mostly refrained from putting pressure on Israel to strike an accord.

It is between the occupied and an occupier who feels unchallenged and empowered. Israel is even considering annexing more Palestinian territory. The fast expansion of Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank has already rendered the two-state solution obsolete. The PA’s domestic legitimacy and internal Palestinian splits are potential roadblocks to resuming negotiations.

Chinese Double Standards in Asia 

There is no confusion that China is a revisionist state famous for using ‘salami-slicing’ tactics (taking over territory by slowly flexing muscles that could gradually emerge into conflict). China uses the mentioned tactic in territorial expansion in the South China Sea and the Himalayan region. The Doklam standoff and Galwan clashes resulted from the ‘salami-slicing’ strategy in the Himalayas. Annexation of Paracel Islands (1974), Johnson Reef (1988), Mischief Reef (1995), and Scarborough Shoal (2012) from its neighbouring states in the South China Sea, and the acquisition of Tibet and the capture of the Indian territory of Aksai Chin in the Himalayas are evident examples of Chinese expansionist policy and salami-slicing tactics.

It is time the world recognises this design of Chinese double standards of preaching peace worldwide and infiltrating neighbouring states simultaneously. Infiltration and acquisition, piracy and spying are the “Chinese Wisdom” producing conflicts in South and Southeast Asia. However, China is laundering its belligerent chanting for peace and realignment in West Asia. Advocating for stability and peace is never wrong, but doing so for relative gains and on the double standard promotes a more selfish international order. It is high time the world should call out the Chinese ‘a bluff.’

This article first appeared in https://samvadaworld.com and it belongs to them.