Is China Palestine's next hope for peace?

Some analysts predict limited benefits from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's visit to China

China's President Xi Jinping and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at a welcoming ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. Getty
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Chinese Premier Li Qiang met visiting Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Thursday, as both governments look to strengthen relations.

The trip marks Mr Abbas's fifth official visit to China, on the 35th anniversary of diplomatic relations being established between the two.

The trip is also being viewed as an opportunity for China to elevate its status in the Middle East, as the US appears to be withdrawing from the region.

Mr Qiang called Mr Abbas “an old friend of the Chinese people” during Thursday's meeting, and both expanded plans to form a strategic partnership, which were announced on Wednesday during a meeting between Mr Abbas and President Xi Jinping.

The initiative included China putting Palestine forward for dialogue partner status at the Shanghai Co-operation Organisation, a multilateral body that focuses mostly on regional security threats.

Mr Abbas also expressed his hopes for the launch the China-Palestine Joint Economic Trade Committee.

Leading Palestinian analyst Nour Odeh told The National that the meetings reflect “historic and strong” relations between the two, which “go back to the early beginnings of the modern national movement”.

“China’s position on Palestine has been solid and consistent and its voting record at the UN Security Council is a testament to that,” she added.

“Given China’s expanding relations globally and with Israel more specifically, Palestinians need China to use this relationship to influence Israel and encourage it to change its policies on the occupation.”

Similarly, the head of Fatah's China relations department Abbas Zaki said earlier in the week that Mr Abbas's visit demonstrates China's growing regional role following its involvement in a high-profile summit held between Riyadh and Beijing in December, Saudi Arabia and Iran's re-establishment of diplomatic ties and Syria's return to the Arab League.

But analyst Hugh Lovatt from the European Council on Foreign Relations said the meetings would bring limited results for Palestine.

“China has made sure that Abbas does not go home empty-handed,” Mr Lovatt told The National.

“On paper, the signing of a strategic partnership upgrades Palestine’s bilateral relations with China to the same levels as those enjoyed by Morocco and Jordan. But in practice, the benefits will likely be limited, especially given the total military and economic control that Israel exercises over Palestine.”

The meetings nonetheless represent high-level international activity regarding the Israel-Palestine conflict, at a time when pushes for its resolution from western powers traditionally involve peace negotiations. Increasingly, talks have shown limited results.

In May, the French, Egyptian, German and Jordanian foreign ministers called for a “political horizon [to] give people hope, a meaningful perspective and to end the occupation,” according to a statement from the French foreign ministry.

Mr Lovatt said such a push “to re-launch peace talks is one thing, but investing serious diplomatic capital to make these happen is another”.

“So far, there is little indication of Europeans wanting to do this. Instead, Germany and other European states continue to shift their attention away from the Palestinian issue as they strengthen ties with Israel and respond to a new set of geopolitical challenges stemming from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine,” he added.

Ms Odeh described current western efforts as “hollow and politically insignificant”.

“The current Israeli government doesn’t even recognise the existence of the Palestinian people and has a programme that unambiguously aims at permanently annexing all of historic Palestine,” she said.

“In my opinion a call for 'peace talks' in this context, without ensuring a fundamental change in Israeli positions that realign them with international law, is nothing more than a whitewashing freebie to a government that includes convicted terrorists, corrupt officials and at least one self-avowed fascist. It’s a cop out.”

Updated: June 16, 2023, 4:45 AM