Chinese Strategy Toward the Middle East: China as a Possible Mediator to End the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict?
Israel was established on May 14, 1948, and Britain left Palestine. David Ben-Gurion established the State of Israel as the ancient territory of the Jews and called on all Jews worldwide to return to Israel.  The British mandate set the path for Israel’s modernization and sovereignty. British Foreign Minister Arthur Balfour helped to establish Israel by promising the Jews a national homeland. In 1948, British soldiers began handing over their positions in Palestine to Israeli forces with guns and ammunition. The 1948 War, or ‘al-Nakba,’ erupted shortly after Israel’s founding. The mismatch in armament quality prevented the Arab armies from defeating the Israeli army. In 1967, another ‘al-Naksa’ war broke out between Jordan, Egypt, and Syria on the one hand and Israel on the other hand, but the Arab troops did not win. Arab-Israeli relations are tense due to past wars and conflicts and an ongoing antagonism. From 1948 to 1982, almost 200 thousand people died, and over $300 billion was spent.
The Evolution of the Sino-Israeli Relationship since the Reform and Opening Policy
After reform and opening, China’s attention switched to the economy. As a result, commodity commerce, project contracting, and investment between China and the Middle East have risen quickly. China’s new century Middle East diplomacy focuses on energy security, which was established in 1992. External factors have traditionally impeded the development of China-Israel ties, despite the fact that there are no direct conflicts of interest or religious or ethnic issues between the two nations.
Currently, China’s “Belt and Road Initiative” relies on cooperation from the Middle East. China strongly relies on Israeli scientific, technological, commercial, and military cooperation. An Israeli-Palestinian peace accord is China’s top objective. During the early years of the PRC, Israel blew an opportunity to establish diplomatic ties with China, but Israel has always recognized the PRC as China’s sole legitimate government. Despite US pressure, it backed China’s re-admission to the UN.
Both nations have a long history of collaboration. China values Israel’s military expertise. Bilateral connections have been uncomplicated since diplomatic contacts began. Israel officially acknowledged China’s market economy in November 2005. Israeli imports from China, excluding diamonds, totaled $13.19 billion in 2021, up 39.6% year on year. The $4.93 billion in exports to China this year is up 4.4% from last year. Despite US criticism, Israel has expanded its military cooperation with China, becoming its most significant military partner.
Attempts to create a common space between Arabs and Israelis
Negotiations and peace efforts between Arabs and Israelis took place. Egypt and Israel signed the first formal pact. In 1977, Egyptian President Mohamed Anwar Sadat visited Israel and spoke in the Israeli Knesset for peace; on March 26, 1979, in Washington, DC, Egypt and Israel signed the Camp David Accords. On September 13, 1993, in Washington, DC, Israel and the PLO signed the Oslo Accords, with US President Bill Clinton, Yasser Arafat, and Shimon Peres present; the accord was named after Oslo, Norway, where covert discussions took place in 1991, leading to the Madrid Conference.
The PLO’s commitment to negotiating a solution to the essential concerns of permanent status is the most significant aspect of that accord. This Declaration of Principles starts with a peaceful period. Condemns the use of terrorism and other violent activities and will alter the National Charter to reflect this. It will also obligate all PLO members to prevent and prosecute violations. According to Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, Israel chose to recognize the PLO as the representation of the Palestinian people and begin discussions with it. The accord was followed by the Jordanian-Israeli peace deal of 1994. The pact normalized relations in all domains, including water, allowing both nations’ ships to sail freely and removing Jordan from the Israeli war.
Beginning on March 17, 1978, the Arab-Israeli negotiations included thirteen documents, including the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty of March 26, 1979, the Oslo peace treaty of September 1993, and subsequent agreements that included the ‘US initiative’ put forth by former US President Bill Clinton in March 1998, and the efforts of the US-sponsored international quartet, represented by the European Union, the UN Secretary-General, and the Palestinian Authority. In addition, recent agreements have been made between Israel, the UAE, and Bahrain that led to Morocco establishing formal ties with Israel (Abraham accords).
China’s Position in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict
Unlike in the past, China’s current diplomatic and economic relations with Israel and the Palestinians favor Israeli through extensive business projects. From 1949 through 1976, China-backed and vilified the Palestinians. China’s viewpoint was mirrored globally and domestically. It opposed the U.S. and Soviet imperialism’. The US and the USSR saw Israel and its Arab foes as proxies. Beijing has to search elsewhere for partners because of Moscow’s Arab relations. In the 1960s, China’s government allied with national liberation organizations like the PLO.
After Mao’s death in 1976, China’s policy became more realistic. In the 1980s, Beijing re-established relations with other countries, particularly Israel. Beijing’s response mirrored its softer tone. Beijing called for a meeting to resolve the conflict in 1984 and 2005. In 1988, it supported the PLO’s two-state plan. In 1991, Israel and its Arab adversaries met in Madrid to discuss peace. However, Madrid emphasized the need for international help to end the war. In January 1992, China and Israel established diplomatic ties, allowing China to participate in future Middle East peace efforts. With Oslo’s demise in 2000, Beijing backed the Arab League’s Road Map and nominated a Middle East ambassador.
China’s Reliable Conflict Resolution
Afghanistan, Yemen, and Iran taught China to negotiate. China also emerged as a mediator during the Arab Spring, notably in Syria, making it an ideal Middle East mediator to resolve the Palestinian-Israeli issue. Given its considerable Middle Eastern presence, China is helping to resolve the Syrian situation peacefully and diplomatically.
China intends to increase its investments and economic exchanges in the Middle East, which requires peace and stability. So, after announcing the Belt and Road Initiative, China prioritizes regional stability. The Middle East is vital for China due to its natural resource access and key placement on the initiative’s land and maritime routes.
The Syrian civil conflict impedes China’s regional objectives, particularly the BRI. China is looking for a solution. With its newfound role as a peacemaker and mediator, China’s global influence will grow, as will its reputation as a nation committed to world peace. China’s policy is founded on long-standing ideas of mutual trade and communication. In the midst of the Middle East’s instability, China can exhibit its diplomatic and economic power. The Syrian crisis gave Beijing a foothold in the Middle East, and it may benefit the most if the conflict ends peacefully.
China as a Proposed Mediator to Solve the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict
After 1979, China’s Middle East policy has been less “one-sided” and more supportive of parties seeking a peaceful solution to the Palestine-Israel conflict. The “Fez Plan” was offered during the 12th Arab League Summit in September 1982. The PLO declared a Palestinian state in November 1988. It vowed to cease all military activity in December of that year after admitting Israel’s existence. China endorsed this strategy. A five-point plan for resolving the Middle East conflict was suggested by Chinese Foreign Minister Qian Qichen in September 1989. Encourage communication among Middle Eastern communities. This is China’s first Middle East peace effort. The Israeli government attempted several tactics to break the deadlock and establish diplomatic ties with China. The Likud and Labor parties, as well as Israelis from all walks of life, endorsed Israel’s stance on China.
China-Israel ties have improved after the Gulf War and the Madrid Middle East Peace Conference. It also helps to reduce the Arab-Israeli conflict. The Arab problem, which has hampered China-Israel diplomatic ties, has been resolved. After a long diplomatic process, Yang Fuchang, China’s Vice Foreign Minister, visited Israel in December 1991. Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister David Levy made the announcement alongside Qian Qichen in January 1992. First ambassadors to Israel and China were selected in March of that year. Establishing diplomatic relations with Israel signals a shift in China’s Mideast policy toward a more balanced view of Arabs and Israelis. In December 1997, Qian Qichen, China’s Vice Premier and Foreign Minister, offered five principles for Middle East peace. These five principles indicate China’s interest in the Middle East peace process. From April 12 to 18, 2000, President Jiang Zemin visited Israel and Palestine. China is indicating that it respects Palestine and Israel equally. In the year following touring Palestine and Israel, Tang Jiaxuan came up with four suggestions.
Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi outlined a five-point plan to end the Middle East conflict. First, China has become more objective and unbiased. China-Israel commercial relations grew considerably in the first decade of the new century. China has never abandoned the Palestinians and has consistently supported the Arabs in the Arab-Israeli conflict. Former US President Donald Trump announced a transfer of the US embassy to Jerusalem, which China has officially condemned. In addition, China supports a united Jerusalem as the capital of both Arabs and Israelis. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas urged the Chinese leadership to act as a mediator in order to end the crisis, and the Chinese authorities agreed. In China, eight Palestinians and Israelis and seven Chinese state delegations met. The Chinese have been discreetly negotiating a fair solution with the parties.
China urged the international community to revive hopes for Palestinian-Israeli talks, stressing their critical role in finding a solution. China may be the best mediator since it is non-biased and has a strong peace policy as part of its grand strategy. A ‘Palestinian-Israeli accord’ would create an economic atmosphere conducive to openness and greater deals in the Middle East. This will benefit the region’s Belt and Road Initiative. From 1949 until Mao Zedong’s death, China’s position was pro-Palestinian.. After the death of Chairman Mao Zedong, China’s position towards Israel shifted dramatically. In 1992, China and Israel established full diplomatic ties, and China urged a peace plan.
China is becoming a big actor on the global stage, both politically and economically. For example, China proposed a four-point peace plan in 2013, advancing the two-state solution based on 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as the capital of a new Palestinian state; upholding “the concept of common, comprehensive, cooperative and sustainable security,” immediately ending Israeli settlement building, preventing violence against civilians, and calling for an early resumption of peace talks; and coordinating international efforts to put pressure on Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Beijing re-launched the four-point strategy in 2017.
The OBOR Initiative will create a port in Ashdod, a train in Tel Aviv, and many other key projects in Palestine and Israel. With such a massive intercontinental project, Israel sees the Belt and Road Initiative as a chance to develop diplomatic ties with the Arabs. Due to the unpredictable security situation, the Chinese are now wary of dealing with Palestine economically. However, if a deal is reached and the conflict ends, Palestine may become a vital partner for China.
Peace between Arabs and Israelis has always been tough, but the situation in the Arab world has changed. This connection went through battles and negotiations. The MENA area urgently needs a comprehensive peace; the conflict must cease, and Israel’s nuclear reactors must be shut down. Both parties must show mutual respect and trust. Israel must honor ratified accords and refrain from using force against Arab governments. Arab nations should consider peaceful coexistence with Israel. China has shown to be a peaceful nation with extensive mediation expertise, which may help both sides achieve a resolution. The Chinese government is dedicated to resolving the dispute between Palestinians and Israelis. Because China has solid contacts with Palestinians and Israelis, it can effectively mediate a settlement. Moreover, since the commencement of the Belt and Road Initiative, China has had business links with both warring sides. In the past, China has proven to be a dependable mediator and peacemaker in the Syrian and Iraqi crises.
 Mohamad Zreik is a Doctor of International Relations, an Independent Researcher specializing in Foreign Policy of China, Belt and Road Initiative, Middle Eastern Studies, China-Arab relations, and East Asian Affairs. The author has numerous studies published in high-ranked journals and international newspapers.ORCID id: 0000-0002-6812-6529. E-mail: email@example.com
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