Give China a chance at Middle East peace

PUBLISHED : Friday, 18 July, 2014, 3:40am
UPDATED : Friday, 18 July, 2014, 9:23am

Israel and the Palestinian militants of Hamas have nothing to gain from the latest flare-up of violence. The more rockets that are fired at Israeli towns and cities from Gaza, the more punishing will be the response. Quickly agreeing to a ceasefire is the only viable option, no matter who brokers it. But as history has repeatedly shown, a truce alone is no long-term solution; the best hope of peace for Israelis and Palestinians will come about through an impartial mediator.

Egypt's attempt to bring about a ceasefire predictably failed, Hamas rejecting any such effort from a government that has no tolerance for its Islamist ways. Israel's international reputation is suffering as a result of its air strikes, in which civilians, especially children, are bearing the brunt; the deaths of four boys who had been playing ball on a beach has been particularly damaging. The Israeli "iron dome" missile shield is also blocking most of the extremists' rockets, increasing resolve. Events are boosting radicalism on both sides, just as in the conflicts of 2008-09 and 2012. The eventual ceasefires then produced only an uneasy calm. China's calling for an end to the fighting and sending its special envoy on Middle East affairs, Wu Sike, to the region to help with mediation is a positive sign.

There is no more impartial or well-placed a country for that role than China. The US has tried time and again and failed, its pro-Israeli stance ensuring Palestinian reticence and Muslim suspicion. Beijing has no such baggage, its neutral position with Israelis and Arabs and good economic relations throughout the Middle East raising the chances of success. Chinese have never waged war or had territorial claims in the region, nor a record of anti-semitism that could affect ties with Israel.

Wu is visiting Palestine, Israel and other regional countries to help find a way forward. His trip continues a process that began a year ago when Beijing held separate talks with Israeli and Palestinian leaders to discuss the peace process. President Xi Jinping unveiled a plan that although not radically new, proved a willingness to get involved. There is every reason why China should: As an important world power, it should participate in international diplomacy and doing so now is a chance to improve an image tarnished by territorial disputes in the South and East China seas.

Given the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, hopes should never be overly high of a breakthrough. But with the US, UN, European Union and Norway, among others, having tried and failed, there is every reason for China to step up.