Zhai Jun, China’s Special Envoy on the Middle East affairs, is on a trip to the region to push for a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas. In his remarks at the Cairo Summit for Peace on the Palestinian Question on October 21, Zhai called for support for “the Palestinian people in restoring their lawful national rights.” This is a position shared by most countries.
The absence of a resolution to the lingering, 75-year-old Palestine-Israel conflict has unsurprisingly caused it to flared up once again. The 2.3 million Palestinians living under occupation in Gaza, considered the largest “open-air prison,” suffer from hardship and despair with no end in sight. The powerful incursion by Hamas into Israel prompted a response by Israel, amounting to potential genocide in the form of intensive indiscriminate bombardments against an overpopulated Gaza. Israel also cut off the supply of water, food, electricity and fuel to the blockaded enclave. Gaza has undergone this kind of reprisal in 2006, 2008, 2012, 2014 and 2021, which caused the deaths of thousands of innocent civilians, many of them children.
The ongoing strike on Gaza has come at a time when proponents of international multipolarity are contesting the unipolar system defended by the United States and its Western allies. The continued war in Ukraine epitomizes this contest between these two visions. The Gaza conflict has also widened the gap between the West and the rest of the world. China, for its part, emphasizes the root cause of the conflict, while officials in the U.S. and some European countries tend to de-contextualize and de-historicize it, contesting who supports Israel more strongly, calling for sending more arms to Israel and preparing for war against Iran, rather than suggesting solutions for peace. The issue is not the strong Western support for Israel, which is no secret, but the one-sided position that Western leaders have taken.
Unlike Zhai’s declaration, Biden’s statement that “the U.S. remains committed to the Palestinians’ right to dignity and self-determination,” lacks credibility because of his decision to send more weapons to Israel. Unlike China’s neutral position, the one-sidedness of U.S. and European officials in the conflict proves that there is no indication that either the U.S. or the EU is willing to put an end to the onslaught on Gaza.
Contrary to the U.S., China and much of the rest of the world have been calling for a ceasefire and a definitive resolution of the Palestine-Israel conflict. The attitudes of the U.S. and EU underscore the perception that they are pursuing hegemonic ambitions that rest essentially on military might rather than on diplomacy and the peaceful resolution of conflict.
Beijing has emphasized peace and development as alternatives to perpetual conflict. In March, China successfully mediated normalization between Iran and Saudi Arabia, two countries with which it has comprehensive strategic partnerships. Before October 7, it offered to mediate between the Israelis and the Palestinians. While this looked like an arduous task, it had the merit of putting diplomacy as the conduit for conflict resolution. Mediation needs impartiality and objectivity. Beijing has consistently and unambiguously asserted its opposition to attacks on civilians and called for a ceasefire. China supports the two-state solution—even if this option might be unrealistic in view of Israeli settlement policy—and the implementation of United Nations resolutions.
China’s attitude is consistent with one of the prerequisites of mediation: impartiality. Due to their unconditional pro-Israeli position, the U.S. and EU cannot be impartial brokers in the conflict. This was recently underlined by a U.S. veto of a draft resolution at the United Nations Security Council calling for a ceasefire to allow humanitarian aid access to Gaza. For people in the Middle East and North Africa, and the Global South in general, the interpretation of U.S. impartiality is clear. The U.S. has pushed for normalization between Arab states and Israel through the Abraham Accords, but this policy has little chance of succeeding because it ignores the rights of the Palestinians.
China is right to push for the resumption of genuine peace talks between the Palestinians and the Israelis and implement the two-state solution. Foreign Minister Wang Yi is correct in pointing out that the source of the Palestine-Israel war “lies in the long delay in realizing the dream of an independent State of Palestine and the failure to redress the historical injustice suffered by the Palestinian people.”
This article was originally published in the Global Times on October 23, 2023.