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How China is working for justice for Palestine

The US does not have a plan for peace in the Middle East — nor is it in their interests. China does have a plan — and it is in the interests of the rest of the world that it is listened to and supported, explains JENNY CLEGG

CHINA’S five-point peace proposal on Israel-Palestine was launched at the UN security council to coincide with the UN International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian people on November 30.
 
It covers a comprehensive ceasefire; the effective protection of civilians; the ensuring of humanitarian assistance; diplomatic mediation; and a political settlement with the implementation of a two-state solution.
 
The initiative has been entirely passed over in the West; China on the other hand underlined its significance by sending Foreign Minister Wang Yi to chair the session and deliver the proposal.
 
China sees the root cause of the problem lying in “the long delay in realising the dream of an independent state of Palestine and the failure to redress the historical injustice suffered by the Palestinian people.”
 
At the same time, it has called for an international peace conference to be held as soon as possible to draw up a timetabled road map for a two-state solution.
 
Given that the UN, EU, US, Britain, China and Russia all claim to support a two-state solution, how hard can it be to get an agreement?
 
Geopolitics at work
 
Since taking office, Biden has sought to further secure Israel’s position as its proxy in the Middle East so as to shift US focus to the Indo-Pacific. Along with the Abraham Accords, normalising relations between Israel and regional states, he set up the I2U2  —  the Middle Eastern Quad  —  comprising the US, Israel, India and the UAE, hyping up the Iran “threat” as part of his New cold war “democracy versus autocracy” agenda against Russia and China.
 
The Saudi Arabia-Iran agreement brokered by China with the UAE in March 2023 turned everything upside down. Biden then launched yet another initiative, IMEC  —  the India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor  —  taking Israel as the key link between India and Europe to counter China’s growing reach into the Middle East through the Belt and Road Initiative.
 
China’s relations with the region have grown steadily over the past two decades, replacing the EU as its main trading partner, or in Israel’s case, the second largest trading partner.
 
Many on the left criticise China’s purchases of military technology in particular but, for China, Israel provides a vital source of access to critical tech sectors increasingly restricted by the US and EU. These economic relations however are not stopping China’s sharp criticisms of Israel’s “collective punishment.”
 
Regional powers have also been looking east to the Shanghai Co-operation Organisation: Egypt, Qatar and Saudi Arabia became dialogue partners in 2021, followed by UAE, Bahrain and Kuwait in 2022.
 
With the Saudi Arabia-Iran deal in place, Iran joined the SCO as a full member in July; and Saudi Arabia, Iran, the UAE, and Egypt were accepted into the Brics in August. In haste, Biden pressed for Saudi Arabia to sign up to the Abraham Accords, pushing Palestinian concerns to the sidelines.
 
With the Middle East in flux and Biden overreaching, Hamas struck.
 
China, Palestine and the UN
 
Not so much a power struggle between China and the US, what is taking place is the rise of the Middle East itself: China has not picked sides, developing all-round relations rather than interfering, aiming to de-escalate tensions and so creating some space for regional states to exercise choices as to their own futures.
 
China has been consistent in supporting UN commitments to an independent Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders and with East Jerusalem as its capital. Questioning the viability of a two-state arrangement, some on the left have favoured a single state.
 
The point however is that the two-state solution is the position of the UN: it stands for Palestinian sovereignty and equality and has to be the starting point of negotiations, not just bargained away.
 
At the same time, China also stipulates that arrangements must “respect the will and independent choice of the Palestinian people,” and must not be imposed. Similarly, China has not condemned Hamas, seeing this as for the Palestinian people to decide.
 
Palestine’s future is integrally intertwined with that of the UN  —  the organisation’s responsibility for international peace and security has been constantly undermined by the US’s use of the veto  —  around half of these occasions to protect Israel.
 
However, with the global balance of power shifting, the locus of decision-making over world affairs is starting to slip out of the hands of the US superpower. China’s peace proposal calls instead for the US to play an “active and constructive role” in Israel-Palestine.
 
This, it is recognised, requires patient consensus-building, regional and international, using momentum from the rise of the global South to bridge divisions and bring political pressure to bear on the US.
 
Consensus-building for peace
 
A struggle is underway now for Gaza’s future: for weeks Biden has urged Israel to focus on Plan B  —  to have any credibility this needs to involve some Arab states, perhaps some rehash of the Oslo Accords.
 
Continuing to use its veto to cover Netanyahu’s murderous rampage, the US angles not least to foment chaos and division in the region by provoking Iran into action in support of Hamas  —  and in this way to maintain US leverage over the situation.
 
The Saudi-Iranian link on the other hand has helped in bringing the Arab League and Organisation of Islamic States (OIC) together, amidst UN delays, to pursue the call for a ceasefire; the Brics, with key Middle East powers now members, also has a significant role to play.
 
Both groups are important to the changing world balance: the Arab-Islamic summit represents 79 countries, over half the global South; the Brics as large developing countries make up 40 per cent of the world’s population and one-third of the world GDP.
 
In the case of the Brics, despite India’s pro-Israel leanings, Al Jazeera reported that splits were “not glaring” at a special summit which called on “all parties to exercise maximum restraint,” and affirmed that “a just and lasting solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict can be achieved by peaceful means.”
 
The Arab League-OIC summit also called for a credible peace process based on the two-state solution with a specific time frame. These at least are shifts in the right direction. Acting in concert with China, these groups can give weight to the international conference proposal against US manoeuvrings.
 
While recognising the importance of regional powers, China’s initiative also looks to “countries with influence on parties to the conflict” to jointly “play a constructive role in de-escalating the crisis.”
 
This then is not about expelling the US from the Middle East but restricting its options: ending the region’s subjection to US power is not so much about severing links but rather looking both West and East towards China to steer towards a green, digitised transition.
 
In contrast with 2003, when the US, unable to get support from the UN, took unilateral action against Iraq, there is now no “coalition of the willing” — the US was alone in backing Israel at the security council.
 
With the region on the brink of wider war, an international peace agreement is all the more urgent.
 
It is time now for the new “ceasefire” coalitions in the West to join the call for a genuine political settlement and guard against another US-initiated “colonial” solution. Ideological canards should be set aside to support China’s proposal as the one viable route towards inclusive negotiations to secure justice for Palestine.

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