China's Role in the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict: Solution Paths, Political Efforts and Economic Penetration

3 years ago






  • China's Role in the Security Council
  • China's Position on the Palestinian Issue
  • Palestine in Chinese Strategy
  • The future of China-Israel Relations




China didn’t lose sight of confronting the American position with its multiple paths during the Battle of the “Sword of Jerusalem” (May 10-21, 2021), between the Palestinian resistance and the Israeli occupation.

Washington supported the move towards a ceasefire that began in the month of Ramadan, because of the violations of the occupation forces and settlers, their desecration of Al-Aqsa Mosque, and their attempt to seize Palestinian homes in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of Jerusalem.

Many believe that China's presence is governed by several limits, including those related to competition with Washington, and the movements of the United States and its allies in all parts of Asia: south, west, east and central, in addition to cooperation between Beijing and Tel Aviv.

In addition to interpretations related to the development of the Chinese position on the Palestinian issue, some of which amounted to providing a reading of Chinese intentions to arm the “Ramallah” authority led by its president, Mahmoud Abbas, instead of the “Hamas”, what qualifies it to be an effective authority; not crisp.

This paper provides a reading of the features of the Chinese position during the confrontations, and its paths and limits in the near and expected future.


China's Role in the Security Council

As the rotating president of the UN Security Council in May, the Chinese Foreign Ministry pushed the United Nations Security Council to hold two urgent consultations on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and drafting a press statement for the Security Council.

It was remarkable that State Councilor and Chinese Foreign Minister “Wang Yi” presided over an open discussion session of the UN Security Council on the confrontations in the Palestinian territories, this is what the Chinese Foreign Ministry statement called “The situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian issue”.

In the discussion conducted by “video conference” technology because “Coronavirus”, the Chinese move aimed to contain the confrontations to prevent more human losses, in addition to seeking to stem the escalation of tensions at the regional level, in the hope of pushing all parties towards “a cessation of hostilities”, and the resumption of political dialogue as soon as possible.

During a period of 11 days of confrontations, in total, the Israeli aggression resulted in the death of 290 martyrs, among them 69 children, 40 women, 17 elderly people, and more than 8,900 wounded, in exchange, 13 Israelis were killed and hundreds wounded, during the response of the factions in Gaza by firing rockets towards the occupied territories.

The Chinese move was preceded by an invitation from Malaysia and Indonesia for the Security Council for intrusion to save the lives of Palestinians, the Chinese move witnessed a response from more than 70 member states of the organization.

The office of the President of the General Assembly has received official letters of participation, all of them affirmed the position of their countries that reject the brutal aggression that was launched by Israel on the Gaza Strip.

It was remarkable that the seventy countries included among themselves the majority of the Arab countries that signed normalization agreements with Israel, among them are Sudan, Morocco and Bahrain.

While the United Arab Emirates did not submit a request to attend the session, this is despite the remarkable development in Chinese-Emirati relations, which is moving today towards the inauguration of a Chinese maritime base in the UAE.

A measure that may have prompted the United States to avoid any role for the UAE in managing the truce file between the Palestinian resistance and the occupation forces.

This trend and its repercussions can be monitored in an interview with the American newspaper “The Wall Street Journal” about the United States' fear of the UAE leaking the secrets of the F-35 aircrafts to China, in addition to what was published by “Reuters” agency, that U.S. intelligence monitored two Chinese military aircrafts unloading equipment at Emirati military airports.

At the level of the Security Council itself, the situation developed through Chinese pressures towards holding 3 meetings in less than a week, the last of which included the presence of representatives of the two countries, Palestine and the -so called- Israeli entity, in addition to United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, and those who gave statements about their vision of escalation in a session that turned from closed session and limited to the 15 members of the Security Council, to an open session.

In this virtual session, the United States pledged to support the Palestinians and Israelis if they seek a truce, while the position of the rest of the Security Council members was indecisive, which led to the inability of the Council to issue a statement regarding the development of the confrontations.

Which prompted China to condemn the United States' obstruction of the Security Council's work about Palestine, and pledge to continue the pressure for Security Council move to defuse the Israeli-Palestinian tension.

The Chinese move was not related -neither negatively nor positively- to Human Rights Council resolution of the United Nations issued on May 27, supported by 24 countries and opposed by 9 countries, in favor of forming “an independent international commission” to investigate in the violations of humanitarian law and international human rights law in the Palestinian territories, a decision rejected by both the United States and Israel.

The Chinese position cannot be viewed in the context of Beijing's presiding over the Security Council session in the month in which the intensity of events suddenly escalated, rather it is related to the development of the Chinese strategic position in the region, at a time when the United States began to regain its presence and force in the region, and Russia began building a network of European and regional alliances.

In addition to Russia's essential presence on the ground, whether in Libya, which desires military stability in it, instead of the “Port Sudan base” project, which collapsed under the weight of U.S. pressures on Sudan, or even in Syria, where it considered its presence as a strategic issue, which amounted to its objection to Turkey's invitations for the international forces to protect Islamic holy sites through Russia's emphasizing that Israel is a neighbor country for it.

As for the details of the Chinese position on the Palestinian issue and its details related to the region and the capital; We will discuss it in the next section.


China's Position on the Palestinian Issue

Throughout the levels of contemporary history, the outcomes of Chinese foreign policy in general were considered biased towards the Palestinian side, following the end of the “Maoist era” (the era of Chinese Communist leader Mao Zedong), U.S. President Richard Nixon's visit to Beijing in 1972, China has turned to adopt “an open-door policy”, based on a cautious but not conservative view of economic openness.

It began to paint a global image of it as neutral and open to all countries, it took this approach as an essential way to achieve its own renaissance, this led the global scales to incline in its favor in general over the past three decades.

The Chinese support for the “Fatah” Movement stems from its rejection of colonialism, especially since it was a colonial country, also, this support is a well-known and documented issue.

Egypt arranged a visit by Fatah leaders, Yasser Arafat and Khalil al-Wazir, to China on March 15, 1964, within the discussions of the “Afro-Asian Solidarity Committee”, as a result, a Palestinian office was opened in Beijing.

Three months later, China gave the movement a £7,000 as a support, and it recognized the Palestine's liberation organization as a representative of the Palestinian people at the end of the sixties, and it began offering military courses to leaders in the organization, Beijing has become the main source of weapons for the Palestinian resistance.

With the policy of openness, especially since China's participation in the “Madrid Peace Conference” in 1991, Chinese policy towards Palestine and Israel tended to be more balanced, a balance that has increased since President Xi Jinping arrived to power in 2013.

One of the most prominent levels of the emergence of the Chinese position was the second visit of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in July 2017, when he met the Chinese President in Beijing.

This is the visit in which President Ping launched from his affirmation of China's belief in the necessity of establishing a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders, with “East Jerusalem” as its capital, to put features of a four-point plan, similar to the plan he presented in 2013.

The basis of this plan is the two-state solution, with confirming of the need for both parties to continue dialogue and negotiation, calling on the -so called- Israeli entity to stop its settlement activities in occupied Palestine, despite China's acknowledgment of Israel's security concerns about the establishment of a “Palestinian state”.

As for the fourth part in the 2017 plan, represented in the structural economic proposal, China has tended to think of the economy as a structural basis for “peace through economic development”.

It is a vision closer to the thesis presented by former Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres – and former U.S. President Bill Clinton (The New Middle East), which was also developed by former U.S. President George W. Bush to include the political reform; which was announced in 2004.

Within the framework of this vision, China offers to facilitate the economic dialogue between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, it is a thesis that serves the self-development perceptions of Beijing itself, it is linked to increasing and securing its economic development projects in the region, it is a series of projects linked to its global initiative called “Belt and Road”, which aims to link the Asian country with the European continent, by creating infrastructure and commercial projects through sea and land paths that cross 68 countries in Asia, Africa and the Middle East, at a cost of about 150 billion dollars.

In this context, the Chinese President stated in July during his meeting with “Mahmoud Abbas”, that China deems Palestine and Israel as important partners in the “Belt and Road” Initiative, it is ready to work within the concept of development for peace, in order to push them to engage in mutually beneficial cooperation.

For example, China National Electronics Import & Export Corporation, it is a state-owned company, qualified for the last round of competition for the implementation of the first phase of the “Bahrain Canal” project, which involved Israel and the Palestinian Authority and Jordan.

After Chinese Foreign Minister “Wang Yi” assumed office in 2016, and in a meeting with his French counterpart at the time, Jean-Marc Ayrault, he stated that Palestine is the core of the Middle East issue, and that it is difficult for the dawn of peace and stability to come in the Middle East and the whole world, without providing a solution to this issue.

He confirmed that China firmly supports the “two-state solution” plan, and that the right to establish the State of Palestine should be granted in a peaceful way, “Yi” also noted that China opposes the continued construction of settlements in the occupied territories.

China is also creating conditions for the resumption of negotiations, and calls on the Arab countries and the “Arab League” to play a more active role in promoting reconciliation and internal Palestinian unity, as well as calling on the United Nations to mediate more actively, and to redouble political settlement efforts.

One of Yi's most prominent works during 2016, with regard to the Palestinian issue, was his invitation to countries concerned with the Arab-Israeli conflict, in order to hold a seminar in which participate peace advocates from Palestinians and Israelis, he considered a vital -from his point of view- for pumping positive energy, to resume negotiations and advance the peace process.

Previously, the Chinese position was based on various determinants, although it is supportive of the Palestinian right, and more supportive of balanced relations between China and the two parties, as former Chinese Foreign Minister “Qian Qichen” expressed about it in the mid-1990s, that China's policy towards the Palestinian issue is summarized in five basic elements:

1. Peace talks should proceed on the basis of implementation of United Nations resolutions, related to the Middle East and the formula of land for peace, agreed upon at the Madrid Conference.

2. Seriously implement all signed agreements to avoid any disruption to the peace process.

3. Elimination of “terrorism and violence” in all its forms, in order to establish the security of the Middle Eastern countries.

4. Encouraging regional cooperation as a catalyst for the exchange of confidence and the gradual rejection of hostility between the Arab countries and Israel.

5. Emphasizing the role of the international community in supporting the concerned parties in the Middle East to achieve a comprehensive and just peace in the region.


The new Chinese position in this context is very complex in a more complex environment, also, determining the solution formula in this way comes within the framework of growing trade and economic relations between China and Israel, which has grown significantly since the mid-1990s, it is extremely important to both parties.

Israel is a major destination for “Belt and Road” infrastructure investments, like the container port in Haifa, and a proposed railway linking the Red Sea and the Mediterranean Sea.

More importantly, Beijing has targeted Israel as a source of advanced technologies, -including robotics, biotechnology and artificial intelligence-, Beijing aims to become “a global leader”.

What further complicates the scene of the disintegration of Chinese-Israeli relations, as for China, Israel does not respond to the U.S. policy that asks its allies to reduce its trade relations with Beijing.

Media reports revealed that the Israeli government rejected an American request in 2020, to search for the presence of Chinese surveillance systems in the Haifa port, in the latest series of Israeli-American dispute, as a result of assigning the port management task to the Shanghai International Port Group.

Arab observers believe that these dual interests and the close relationship between the two countries, reduce the likelihood of Beijing exerting a real pressure on the Israelis, but it softens the Israelis' opposition to China's support for the Palestinian side.

In this context, it is not possible to override the basic principles that govern China's relationship with the region, which are as follows:

1. Non-interference in internal affairs, respect for the sovereignty and independence of states.

2. Not to get involved in Arab-Arab disputes, or Arab with other countries such as Iran.

3. Use calm language regarding the Israeli policies, Arab demands, the peace process in the Middle East, and call on all parties to settle the dispute in peaceful ways.

4. Focus on separating the economy from the policy in its dealings with all countries including the Arab world.


Palestine In Chinese Strategy

The Chinese stance concerning the Palestine cause  is clear, but with several aspects of interpretation from different parties.

It does not seem that China has changed this position developed after the rapprochement brought about by President Richard Nixon's "ping-pong diplomacy" in addition to the opening up to the World that followed the death of Chairman Mao".

Since that date, China has taken a middle position towards the Palestine-Israel issue. While the rhetorical position of Beijing is clear towards the Palestinian side, the economic side so far has tended to Israel.

Experts in the American "Foreign Policy" magazine report that this approach may not succeed in managing the Arab-Israeli conflict. It is rather an approach to "avoid abuse."

 This fits perfectly with Beijing's approach to other regional divisions; It seeks to balance relations with each side in any given conflict, and avoids  overly partisan diplomatic steps.

 Between these two directions, several interpretations appear regarding the Chinese strategic position on the Palestinian issue.

The first interpretation was in "Sword of Jerusalem" confrontations, according to which observers in the Japanese newspaper "Japan Times" announced that the signs of a broader and deeper Chinese role in the Middle East issues are still in their very early beginnings.

So, they  cannot be reliable, although the change of stance  towards the Israeli occupation might be reflected at least by depriving it of developing security cooperation with a giant state that dominates an important part of the world and a growing trade network.

This will be necessarily reflected on a limited Chinese orientation towards the Palestinian side, unless it is absorbed by the new axis of normalization led by the UAE, which the region has begun to witness deep foreshadowings, heading towards a Chinese naval base in the UAE; Which appears to be trying to contain any possible expansion of China's role in the Arab-Israeli conflict.

The Foreign Policy magazine notes that developments in the occupied territories have forced US President Joe Biden to make contacts with the region’s leaders. He has ignored them since taking office on January 20, 2021 and appointing an ambassador to the Palestinian Authority, although, his focus was mostly  on supporting the home front and rallying allies against China.

The paradox of the Chinese position led to the occurrence of the American transformation, which may be developed in case of mounting American pressure on the entity to reduce the level of cooperation with Beijing.

On the other hand, Russian experts say that China is trying  to "set the fire" in the Asian continent.

These efforts are led by the United States; to be able through its allies; Including Israel, from controlling the situation in Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Iran and China, by creating an environment unfavorable to the stability of these countries, and preventing the bridging of political gaps between them. This could lead to a total regional war in the Asian continent.

 Russian experts assert that the organization that pays most attention to the Palestinian issue in this context is the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which is witnessing extensive cooperation between China and Pakistan on this issue. Now,  the two countries are dealing together as a united front for the anti-terrorist approach.

This is what links the countries of the "Shanghai Organization" with Turkey, and the strengthening of the alliance between Turkey and Pakistan that have a well-known position on the Palestinian cause.

In this context, it is clear that the statement of Pakistani Foreign Minister "Shah Mahmood Qureshi" shows that Pakistan agrees with China's position on the current "Palestinian-Israeli conflict", supporting  the two-state solution and the just cause of the Palestinian people. It also calls for a solution through dialogue and negotiations between the Palestinian and the Israeli sides.

However, the most important thing in the perceptions of a number of Arab observers is that both China and Russia have an interest in supporting the Palestinians.

Many believe that Beijing is interested in this support to create a balance between Israel and Palestine, while China sees it as part of an upcoming Chinese national security. China is also interested  in arms sales and in supporting  the Palestinians to defend themselves and impose their presence.

 This gives China the advantage of being present by creating a strategic balance that the region aspires to ,on the one hand, and by serving  Chinese interests on the other hand.

Also, the Russians present  those who use  Russian weapons as an ally (Kornet missiles), a view of the Russian deep state. This is what observers consider as an extension of the thought of the Russian state ,from the tsarist period to federalism, passing by the Soviet era.

However, the Russian view remains militarily, linked to the Ministry of Defense, which is affiliated with the deep state, and does not reflect the "Putin's perception" of the presence in the region.

Despite the denials of observers of Beijing's public declaration, the entry of the UAE, with its high financial capabilities, on the Chinese line along with Israel, may lead to many interpretations of the Chinese approach; which may tend to produce a balance between two conflicting axes; both take China and its geoeconomic vision as a strategic reference.

The changes in the Israeli entity may lead China to make a practical, not a principled, concession in favor of Tel Aviv, which may represent - in its view - the least costly alternative to an escalation that may not lead to a decisive result in the short and medium term.


The future of China-Israel Relations

The relationship between China and Israel made the focus of the Chinese discourse in managing the crisis of the Palestinian confrontations with the occupation forces, be on its conflict with the United States rather than directing blame on Tel Aviv, although, this focus did not prevent the Chinese discourse from being blamed after years of "courtship" and "zero diplomacy".

This was explicitly evident in the Chinese media’s coverage of the Palestinian confrontation with the occupation forces, compared to what Foreign Policy magazine called the “nice coverage” of the 2014 war.

 Although the attack focused on the American approach to managing the crisis. The Chinese state TV station CGTN, for example, indicated for the first time that American policy is under the control of a "Jewish lobby", which provoked an angry reaction from the Tel Aviv embassy in the capital, Beijing.

China  did not miss the chance to deepen the crisis of US diplomacy, reminding the world that Washington , actually does not fight for human rights like everyone thinks. It is obvious when it comes to the US's inability to provide political solutions to stop Israeli crimes.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry published a tweet denouncing "the United States' claim that it cares about the human rights of Muslims, while neglecting the suffering of Palestinian Muslims," ​​which can be considered - in part - a response to the approach of Washington, which had just led an international movement against Beijing; regarding its treatment of the Muslim Uyghur minority in East Turkistan.

In the same context, the official and government social media accounts in China posted  tweets about the matter.

One of the most prominent manifestations of these posts was a tweet by Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian, who published a picture showing an eagle representing the United States dropping a missile on Gaza, with a comment that said: "Look what the human rights defender has brought to the people of Gaza."

However, there is generally Chinese caution in dealing with the divisions in the various regions to which it directs its foreign policies, in addition to its economic dealings with the Israeli entity as a link in the "Belt and Road" initiative through several projects, most notably a port in Haifa and the proposed railway line to link the Red and Mediterranean sea And cooperation in many other fields, most notably robotics, biotechnology and artificial intelligence.

This caution is balanced by another pillar of Chinese strategy in the Middle East, which is represented in China's effort  to balance the influence of the United States and destabilize its position in the region as it does elsewhere. As seen in the "Foreign Policy" magazine.

Foreign Policy's speech did not call on the US administration to find a solution that defends the Palestinians rights. It rather  called on it to work to prevent China from forming partnerships in any way with the parties in the region; Especially with its allies.

In the administration of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu - for example, we find that the distance was great between the latter as the head of the government, as he raised the slogan "Security considerations precede friendship considerations", which prompted it to strengthen cooperation with both Russia and China.

Meanwhile, Defense Minister Benny Gantz refused to let security considerations affect the alliance relationship with the United States, which prompted the latter to communicate with The Minister to be aware of any military action against Iran.

Japanese observers believe that it does not seem that Beijing, by repeating its "four points" initiative, which the occupying power rejects, is seeking a real mediation role. It is obvious that Beijing is standing on the Palestinians side.

Arab observers drew attention to the importance of the region from China's point of view, which prompted it to accept the UAE's temptations to work on inaugurating a Chinese naval base on Emirati soil.

The matter is no less important for China in the UAE than in the Mediterranean, and perhaps this geopolitical motive is what made the most prominent contracts in the Mediterranean take place between China and Tel Aviv, through the Haifa Container Port.

However, the expected high tensions on the level of US-Chinese relations would have a strong impact on China's relationship with Tel Aviv.

Arab observers point out that there is a decline in the level of technical cooperation between China and Israel, a decline that came from the latter, especially with the growing US pressure on this sector in particular.

 The US-Chinese confrontation seems to be a ‘ Cold War’ , which dominated the world for four decades after World War II.

 Chinese investments in Israel do not exceed 3 billion dollars, which represents less than 2 thousand of the total Chinese investments that went abroad between 2005 and 2019, amounting to about 2.05 trillion dollars, of which 815.3 billion dollars went to construction projects and 1.23 trillion dollars in the form of direct investments.

In this context, we find that China's investments in Tel Aviv reached their peak in 2018, and since then began to decline, which is a relative indicator of the future situation.


China led an active international movement during the "Sword of Jerusalem" confrontations, and managed to embarrass the United States, and prompted it to expedite its contacts with the Middle East region. So, the Biden administration contacted Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, and appointed an ambassador to the Palestinian Authority, as well as contacts With both Egypt and Turkey.

The limits of the Chinese position at the present time did not extend towards blaming Israel and were limited to confronting American propaganda, while it witnessed one “rhetorical” spectrum represented in the United States submitting to the Zionist lobby, a phrase that angered the influential in the Hebrew state.

This is in addition to not exceeding the Chinese discourse in this regard to the extent of not harming the Israeli entity with more than the expressions of the discourse, and the demand to stop violence, and to return to dialogue.

 This limit is due to one of two possibilities: the first is that China wants to explore the direction of the administration of the entity, which seemed so shaken in the face of the Palestinian performance in Gaza, while the other interpretation is related to the assessment of the degree of China’s willingness to crystallize a “non-zero” position and biased towards the Palestinian side that Beijing recognized it.

Despite the cooperative trend of the relationship between China and Israel, the curve of this relationship is witnessing a decline under the American pressure, which sees Chinese investments in the technology sector in Tel Aviv as a threat to American national security, in addition to the Israeli-Russian rapprochement, in addition to some dissatisfaction with the Chinese position on "Sword of Jerusalem" confrontations.

Arab experts and observers tend to consider Palestine as China's next destination, and that possible steps to support this state are on the way through regional partners such as Turkey and Egypt, who agree with Beijing that there must be relative respect for the resistance's weapon, even if they differ in the approach needed to support the Palestinians.

Observers also argue that a future Palestinian state is a requirement of Chinese national security, and that arming Ramallah is a necessity, to transfer the power to the National Authority instead of the resistance movements that share the management of the Gaza Strip through clear mechanisms of respect, consensus and partnership, and the confrontations of the "Sword of Jerusalem" have made it clear. However, other observers appreciate the Chinese position.