China and the Israeli-Palestinian Peace Process

(Asia Times-Hong Kong) Ng Weng Hoong - Brig.-Gen. (ret.) Assaf Orion, a senior research fellow and head of the China Program at the Tel Aviv-based Institute for National Security Studies (INSS), said in an interview that before China can become a player in Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, the region must first have the "conditions for peace." These "conditions" are currently lacking owing to doubts that the Palestinian Authority (PA) is strong enough to negotiate and implement the terms of any peace agreement. The PA is divided and beholden to powerful factions in the Arab world, including some that do not recognize Israel's right to exist. International meetings such as the January 15 conference in Paris attended by representatives from some 70 countries represent unwanted distractions. "The conference is all about trying to arrange for a better wedding in the hope that it will lead to a better marriage," Orion said before it was held. "The Middle East is broke and broken. What's the use of another political convention?" Orion said the region's governments should instead focus their attention on repairing their "broken" economies, starting with the rebuilding of infrastructure destroyed by years of conflict and neglect. China's "international politics are less about military forces and conflicts, and more about business. China's forte and focus is economic growth. It's exactly what's needed here in the Middle East." But China is still counting the massive financial and strategic losses it has incurred in the Middle East and North Africa in recent years. These include the rush to invest in Libya before the collapse of the Gaddafi regime, paying too much for stakes in Iraq's oilfields prior to the global oil price collapse and the emergence of ISIS, and making elaborate plans to turn Bashar Assad's Syria into a regional hub for Chinese influence before the country's disintegration into civil war. Orion thinks China is not interested - nor does it know how - to take on political or military roles in the Middle East. China would rather focus on building infrastructure and supporting economic development that are more in keeping with its "One Belt One Road" initiative to revive and expand the old Silk Road to the West. He sees China and the U.S. complementing and supporting, rather than competing against, each other in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

2017-03-07 00:00:00

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