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Will China be able to resolve Israel-Hamas war? Israel-Hamas War
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Will China be able to resolve Israel-Hamas war?

India Blooms News Service | @indiablooms | 19 Oct 2023, 11:56 pm

In a move that could provide China a chance to consolidate its political hold in the Middle East region, Beijing has decided to play its role in diffusing the ongoing Israel-Hamas conflict in Gaza. China’s special envoy for Middle East affairs Zhai Jun has held telephonic talks with senior officials from Saudi Arabia, Israel, Egypt, and the Palestinian Authority.

However, China supports a two-state solution to the Palestinian crisis, but it has so far not condemned Hamas despite its brutal acts of terrorism against innocent Israeli civilians. China hesitates to condemn Hamas as it will offend Iran, Syria, and countries of the Arab world. But Israel, the US, and its Western allies are on one page and they want Hamas to be held accountable for the current situation.

They want the world to see attacks on Israel from the angle of terrorism, while China looks at the crisis from a historical perspective. China’s stand is that the root cause of the crisis is the long delay in the realisation of Palestinians’ aspiration to establish an independent state. In that background, will China be able to play an effective mediatory role in resolving the Israel-Hamas war? 

Among analysts there is a common view that the war should end and diplomacy has to play a role in creating a better postwar reality and legitimating it for a long-term solution of the Palestinian crisis. For this, Israelis and Palestinians and their supporters from the Arab world will have to arrive at a common table to thrash out issues that denied peace to the region for years.

But there is a fear that after the current war is over, Israel, which has gone through a horrible experience of being mercilessly brutalised by Hamas, will be more extreme and less-flexible in its approach towards Palestine. This feeling has been put forward by Israeli writer and winner of the 2017 Man Booker International Prize David Grossman in his write up in Financial Times on October 12.

He said, “If I may hazard a guess: Israel after the war will be more right-wing, militant, and racist. The war forced on it will have cemented the more extreme, hateful stereotype and prejudices that frame—and will continue to frame all the more robustly—Israeli identity. And that identity will from now on also embody the trauma of October 2023, as well as the polarisation, the internal rift.” 

For China, the challenge lies in convincing Tel Aviv to support its mediation efforts in the Middle East. After a large number of Israeli political elites have seen Beijing making no categorical condemnation of Hamas even after requests, there is less likely chance of Tel Aviv heeding to any Chinese call to start peace talks with Palestine, analysts say.

Israelis, moreover, seem to be upset with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s statement that “Israel’s actions have gone beyond self-defence.” During his telephonic talks with Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud on October 15, the Chinese Foreign Minister said, “It should collectively listen to the calls of the international community and the United Nations secretary general and stop collective punishment of the people of Gaza.”

Israel has vowed to annihilate Hamas after its fighters entered the country from multiple points, rampaging through towns and villages, killing 1,300 Israelis, making off with scores of children and elders and holding them hostages.  “We will never forgive, we will never let the world forget these horrors inflicted on the Jewish people. We will fight our enemies using power without limit,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in his televised address to the nation on October 14.

China is viewed as a country that does not put its weight behind resolving a crisis of geopolitical importance. It is seen in the case of ongoing Russia-Ukraine war, where it has failed to leverage its influence on Russia in resolving the more than one year old conflict.

China could remain successful in bringing two Middle East foes—Saudi Arabia and Iran---close to each other because of its strong economic engagements with them. China is Saudi Arabia’s largest trading partner; Riyadh is one of Beijing’s largest suppliers of oil.

In Iran, China has agreed to invest $400 billion over 25 years in exchange for a steady supply of oil to feed the engine of its growth. The New York Times said promised $400 billion Chinese investments in Iran will be made in dozens of fields, including banking, telecommunications, ports, railways, health care and information technology.

Riyadh and Tehran’s long held willingness to strike an accord and blur their sectarian feuds for their mutual benefits is also cited as one of the reasons that helped Beijing in brokering an agreement between the two Middle East countries.

“China’s role in brokering the agreement (between Saudi Arabia and Iran) also may not be as pivotal as it seems, given indications that Tehran and Riyadh were already motivated to strike an accord,” The New York Times quoted Yun Sun, Director of the China programme at the Stimson Centre, a Washington-based research institute as saying.

In contrast, China’s equation with Israel is based on the factors of conveniences; Beijing’s historic support for Palestine and its rivalry with the US play a significant role in eluding warmth and cordiality at political and diplomatic level with Israel even as both enjoy strong trade and commerce relations.

Bilateral trade between the two countries shot up from $15 million in 1992 to $22.8 billion in 2021, The Times of Israel said, quoting government figures. China remains Israel’s largest trading partner in Asia; Israel imports more from China than anywhere and exports more to China than any other country in Asia.

Analysts say China could be successful in brokering a reconciliation in a stable environment and not when conflict is there in any region. The Israel-Hamas conflict is deadlier than the Ukraine war as the former has a possibility of snowballing into a full-blown war, taking a significant toll on the stability of the region.

Hamas attacks have hardened Israel’s outlook towards Hamas and the region. Its glimpse can be seen in Israeli Defence Force Spokesperson Brig Gen Daniel Hagari’s statement. “The IDF is ready to crush Hamas’ rule,” The Jerusalem Post quoted the IDF Spokesperson as saying. The Post added that Israel is preparing for the largest land invasion of Gaza since the 2005 withdrawal from the area.

To restore Israeli nationals’ faith in the state, and deter enemies from any future attacks, Israel’s political and military leadership appear to be unyielding in their approach towards Hamas. In that background, will China be able to bring Tel Aviv on the negotiating tableis a major question.

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