Israel-Palestine dispute: China wants three-way talks as it pushes forward new Silk Road plans

Beijing has suggested a trilateral meeting with the two Mideast neighbours, but Jerusalem likely to resist mediation efforts, analysts say

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 19 July, 2017, 11:31pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 20 July, 2017, 11:00am

China has suggested three-way talks with Israel and Palestinian authorities as it seeks to take a more active role in resolving the world’s most protracted territorial dispute.

The trilateral dialogue mechanism, which was raised by Chinese President Xi Jinping in a closed-door meeting with visiting Palestine Authority president Mahmoud Abbas on Tuesday, is aimed at helping “coordinate and push forward key projects to assist Palestine”, according to a statement on the website of the Chinese Foreign Ministry.

However, with few other details, it remains unclear how the mechanism could bring the two sides together, with Israel reluctant to allow mediation by foreign powers, mainland experts say.

“We don’t even know if this will be an official dialogue or an unofficial one,” said Pan Guang, a professor at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences. “But so far, I doubt if Israel would want any official involvement.”

Speaking to reporters after meeting Abbas in Beijing’s Great Hall of the People, Xi reaffirmed to Abbas, China would continue to support a two-state solution, with an independent, fully sovereign Palestinian state, bounded by the 1967 borders and with East Jerusalem as its capital.

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The proposal of a three-way dialogue comes as Beijing steps up engagement, both diplomatic and economic, in the Middle East, a region Beijing views as critical in its trade and investment blueprint the “Belt and Road Initiative”.

Earlier this month, the Chinese capital Beijing hosted a Syrian reconstruction fair, organised by the Syrian embassy in Beijing and the semi-official China-Arab Exchange Association. Executives of nearly 200 state-owned companies took part in discussions about reconstruction projects in the war-torn nation, according to the Global Times.

During his visit to the Middle East in January, Xi pledged US$55 billion in investment and loans for the region.

At the same time China remains a cosy economic relationship with Israel, with a record US$16.5 billion of Chinese investment in Israel last year.

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“From China’s perspective, economic measures could be more effective in connecting different parties in the Middle East, for example in the case of Syria where, as Islamic State falls, China’s involvement in the reconstruction could be more acceptable for both the government and the opposition,” said Wang Lian, an international relations professor at Peking University.

Speculation China would take on the role of peacemaker first emerged in 2013 when Beijing hosted back-to-back discussions with Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, although they didn’t meet.