Immediate cessation of hostilities in Gaza


Andy Wong / AP

On November 20–21, a representative delegation of foreign ministers from the member countries of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and the League of Arab States (LAS) visited Beijing. It was received at a high state and party level. Wang Yi, a member of the CCP Central Committee Political Bureau and Director of the CCP Central Committee’s Foreign Affairs Office and concurrently Foreign Minister, met with the ministers. The foreign ministers of Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, Indonesia, Palestine and others participated in the talks. China was the first point of the Arab emissaries’ tour through the countries — permanent members of the UN Security Council.

Judging by the rhetoric, the purpose of the trip is to pressure the West to weaken support for Israel and end the aggression in Gaza. Egyptian minister Sameh Shoukry said, «We hope that China, as a great power, will make more efforts to stop the attacks on the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. Unfortunately, there are big states that give Israel cover for attacks».

China was not chosen as the first destination of the trip by chance. This country has traditionally had good relations with the Arab world and was initially in favor of the establishment of a Palestinian state. The Chinese have not abandoned their position even now, although so far official Beijing has not put forward any plans for a settlement along the lines of the Ukrainian one and has not been very active in this direction. From the very beginning of military actions in Gaza, the Chinese Foreign Ministry has not directly condemned Hamas, called on it to abandon escalation and create an independent Palestinian state.

The decision for such a consolidated diplomatic demarche was made at the joint Islamo-Arab summit in Riyadh. There, a large group of Arab and Muslim countries called on the International Criminal Court to investigate «war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by Israel». The summit was convened by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the de facto leader of Saudi Arabia.

At the talks in Beijing, Wang Yi, in public remarks, did not deviate from China’s traditional position on the Palestinian-Israeli issue. «China», he said, «is a good friend and brother of Arab and Muslim countries. It has always firmly supported the aspiration of the Palestinian people to restore their national rights».

According to the Chinese foreign minister, the situation in the Gaza Strip affects all countries in the world, calling into question the foundations of humanity and human conscience.

«The international community should urgently take effective measures to prevent this tragedy from being prolonged and expanded», Wang Yi said at a meeting with a delegation of Arab and Islamic foreign ministers.

He emphasized that China stands firmly on the side of justice in this conflict, and has been making efforts to de-escalate, expand humanitarian aid since its inception, insist on returning to the Two States for Two Peoples plan, and call for an early, just, comprehensive solution to the protracted Palestinian issue. The Chinese minister assured the delegation members that China is willing to work together to cool down the situation in the Gaza Strip as soon as possible and restore peace in the Middle East.

This is fully consistent with the modern concept of China’s foreign policy, which opposes resolving issues by force and any military conflicts. In addition, China actively trades with the countries of the Middle East (including Israel) and any tensions are detrimental to Chinese economic interests.

In this case, China also acts as a leader of developing countries, which are Arab countries, and appears as a natural antagonist to the United States, which almost uncompromisingly supports Israel.

Now the West is trying to discredit China’s position by criticizing its silent criticism of its support for Palestine and Hamas, and by pointing to the fact that China has withdrawn from the problem. However, this is not the case. Zhai Jun, China’s special envoy for the Middle East, negotiated last year with Israeli officials and the Palestinian Authority, which governs the occupied West Bank, as well as with the Arab League and the European Union, to resolve the crisis on the basis of recognizing the region as a two-state solution — the way a U.N. resolution passed more than half a century ago demanded — as well as recognizing Palestine as an independent state and member of the international community. Chinese diplomacy has not ceased its efforts to stabilize the situation in the Middle East and resolve simmering conflicts.

Suffice it to recall the unprecedented diplomatic breakthrough mediated by Beijing when seemingly antagonistic Iran and Saudi Arabia settled relations. The geopolitical significance of this deal cannot be overemphasized. Given China’s political-economic weight and influence in the Western world, the Arabs would still like to expect something similar from the Chinese side.

However, China has certain limitations in terms of the balance of interests. It would not want to come into open conflict on this issue with the US, the easing of tensions with which has not come easy. However, the American position of unconditional support for Israel, when even UN Secretary General Guterres speaks of Israeli war crimes in Gaza, looks increasingly vulnerable. Putting pressure on Washington from other UN Security Council members, including Russia, and creating an appropriate atmosphere of condemnation of the actions of Israel and its allies could lead to a diplomatic shift. The truce that has been declared in Gaza these days may be the first sign of this.

On Nov. 21, the delegation, which was hosted in Beijing, moved on to Moscow, where it was received by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. According to the Russian Foreign Ministry’s official report, having condemned terrorism, the meeting participants emphasized the unacceptability of fighting this evil with methods of collective punishment, indiscriminate use of force against civilian objects in violation of the Geneva Conventions.

«The commonality of the approaches of Russia and the countries of the Arab-Muslim community to ways of overcoming this crisis was confirmed. A solidarity position was expressed in favor of establishing a sustainable ceasefire as soon as possible, ensuring the protection of the civilian population, compliance with the norms of international humanitarian law, opening of humanitarian corridors, continuation of evacuation measures from the Gaza Strip and the release of hostages. The meeting participants also emphasized the need for the adoption of effective coordinated measures for the establishment of a lasting peace between Palestine and Israel. In this regard, they emphasized the importance of a comprehensive political solution to the Palestinian problem on the basis of the well-known UN decisions and the Arab Peace Initiative. They noted the need to intensify international efforts aimed at creating conditions for negotiations between the parties, the outcome of which should be the establishment of an independent Palestinian state within the 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital».

Russia’s and China’s positions on the Middle East settlement are generally similar. But the establishment of an independent Palestinian state, which is required by UN resolutions, is still a long way off.