As China steps up its diplomatic engagement with the region, Chinese President Xi Jinping pledged to make "unremitting" efforts to promote peace in the Middle East following a meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
In a meeting with Abbas on Tuesday, Xi presented China's four-point plan to resolve the Israeli- Palestinian conflict. The plan includes China's support of a two-state solution, with an independent, fully sovereign Palestinian state bounded by the 1967 borders and with East Jerusalem as its capital. During closed door talks, Xi said China will set up trilateral dialogue and later this year host a peace symposium to help resolve the dispute, Foreign Affairs Vice Minister Zhang Ming told reporters.
Xi called the Palestinian people "true, good friends, partners and brothers" of China, stating his country would "unswervingly promote Chinese-Palestinian relations and ceaselessly move the Middle East peace process forward."Abbas arrived in China on Tuesday for a four-day state visit on Xi's invitation. However, he cut short his trip and returned home to follow up on tension at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound. He also dispatched an official delegation to Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, to brief members of the United Nations Palestine Committee on the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People on the deteriorating situation in Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa Mosque, the Palestine News Network reported yesterday.
Despite depending on the volatile Middle East for oil, Beijing has long taken a backseat in its disputes. But China has stepped up its diplomatic engagement in the region in the past year, including an offer to host talks on the Syrian war. Diplomats say that China is trying to play the role of "honest broker" in the Middle East, as it lacks the historical baggage of the U.S. and European. China also has close ties with Iran, whose nuclear program has seriously alarmed Israel.
U.S. President Donald Trump has renewed efforts to get Israeli-Palestinian talks going again after they collapsed in 2014. His Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt announced an Israeli-Palestinian water agreement last week but dodged questions on whether he was making headway on reviving peace talks.
Abbas's meeting with White House senior adviser and Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner and Greenblatt was "greatly disappointing" for Palestinians, Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported.
Despite U.S. attempts to resolve the conflict during former U.S. President Barack Obama's terms in office, talks have stalled over issues including settlements and Palestinian political divisions. U.S.-Israeli relations under Obama hit all-time lows after the White House signed a nuclear deal with Iran, which Israel considers to be its biggest and most dangerous enemy. Moreover, the Obama administration opposed new illegal settlements and abstained from a United Nations Security Council vote condemning Israel's illegal settlements.
Peace efforts have been at a complete standstill since a U.S.-led initiative collapsed in April 2014. During the latest Israeli onslaught in Gaza in 2014, more than 2,100 Palestinians, most of them civilians, were killed last July and August. Sixty-seven Israeli soldiers and six civilians in Israel were killed by rockets and attacks by Hamas and other groups. Israel maintains a blockade on Gaza to keep material it believes could be used for military purposes from entering the impoverished enclave of 1.9 million people.