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Opinion
For a Practical Peace
Pragmatism marks China's proposal to bring Palestine and Israel together for talks
By Mara Lee | NO. 35 AUGUST 31, 2017

Activists with Zimam, a Palestinian civil society organization, plant trees outside of Nablus on January 15 as part of a non-violent exercise to resist the Israeli occupation of the West Bank. Ensuring families are fully cultivating their land helps to prevent land confiscation (COURTESY OF MARA LEE)

When Chinese President Xi Jinping met his Palestinian counterpart Mahmoud Abbas in Beijing on July 18, Xi proposed a new, trilateral dialogue mechanism for resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. The proposal came just days before weeks of violence and turmoil in the Middle East region, the worst so far this year.

After an attack at the holy site of Haram al-Sharif in Jerusalem, known as the Temple Mount to Jews, that killed two Israeli police officers, the Israeli Government closed the site for two days, adding cameras and metal detectors. However, it was later forced to remove the metal detectors after enormous pressure.

Heart of the conflict

The recent unrest in and around Jerusalem underscores how the city is both the geographical and symbolic heart of the conflict. It is the holiest city in Judaism and the third holiest in Islam, after Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia.

Jerusalem is also home to diverse groups of people: secular and orthodox Jews, Muslims, Christians and many others. Engaging in meaningful efforts toward conflict resolution therefore requires an understanding of the history and important cultural and religious sensitivities of the region. But it also requires understanding that at its core, this is not a religious conflict.

The Palestinian-Israeli conflict is largely a product of political decisions and has continued partly because of the lack of political leadership and partly because of the frequent hijacking of the agenda by extremists.

As violence escalates in the region, it is urgent and necessary for external actors to adopt a solutions-oriented framework and support the moderates in both communities working to end this conflict.

Liu Jieyi, China's permanent representative to the UN, explains the Chinese Government's four-point proposal for the settlement of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict at a UN Security Council meeting in New York City on July 26 (XINHUA)

Moderate majorities

Inside Palestinian society, which is deeply fractured, there is a struggle between those who advocate violence and those who are committed to gaining independence through peaceful means. Zimam is a civil society organization working in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, supporting Palestinian statehood through non-violent means.

"When young Palestinians have no hope and nothing to lose, it is easy for them to be attracted to and resort to violence," Zimam CEO Samer Makhlouf said. "We want these young people to live for Palestine. Palestine will benefit if they are alive as doctors, teachers and engineers, serving their communities as well-educated citizens and participating in building our state and its institutions. As a Palestinian, as a person and as a father, I refuse and reject all forms of violence. It's not taking us anywhere."

Makhlouf believes that the majority of Palestinians support his views and wish to live at peace with their neighbors in a free and independent Palestinian state. Public polling has demonstrated this for decades. However, there have been dips in support for a two-state solution in recent years. When people feel hopeful of its prospects, they are overwhelmingly supportive, but during spates of violence and increased Israeli military presence in Palestinian territory, it dissipates.

Israeli public opinion often follows similar trends. When violence and tension are high, the belief that a resolution is in sight drops. When meaningful efforts are made to advance negotiations or enhance security cooperation, support bounces back.

The fact that both Palestinian and Israeli moderates want a peaceful resolution to the conflict means that the window for conflict resolution is still open.

Four-part plan

China's increased engagement in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is in recognition of the opportunity cost of continued conflict and the instability the conflict has been causing in the Middle East. As a rising voice in global affairs and the world's second largest economy, China can play an important role in advocating a just and negotiated resolution to the conflict.

The first component of the Chinese proposal is advancing a two-state solution based on the 1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as the capital of a new Palestinian state.

The second is upholding "a concept of common, comprehensive, cooperative and sustainable security," immediately ending the building of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, taking immediate measures to prevent violence against civilians, and calling for the resumption of peace talks.

The plan also calls for coordinating international efforts to put forward "peace-promoting measures that entail joint participation at an early date."

The final point is to promote peace through development and cooperation between Palestine and Israel.

On July 31, China's Permanent Representative to the UN, Liu Jieyi, urged the international community to support Xi's proposal. Liu said at a news conference that China's future diplomatic efforts will focus on trying to move toward a negotiated solution based on the four proposals.

As Liu pointed out, China views both Palestine and Israel as important partners in its Belt and Road Initiative, the effort to develop transport routes including roads, railways and ports to expand trade across a large swath of land in Asia, as well as parts of Africa and Europe.

China has also proposed launching a China-Palestine-Israel tripartite dialogue mechanism in order to coordinate the implementation of major assistance projects for Palestine, he said.

Liu added that China plans to hold a symposium for Israeli and Palestinian peace activists this year, seeking to "contribute wisdom for the settlement of the Palestinian issue." The recognition of the role that civil society organizations play in creating conditions ripe for negotiations is critical.

Under the two-state solution, the world's institutions would welcome Palestine into the community of nations, providing trade opportunities, free movement of people and goods, and an end to the stalemate that has hindered Palestinian economic growth for more than half a century.

There would be scope for Palestine's large youth population to engage in new opportunities previously denied to the majority of its residents.

China's own experience of dramatic economic growth and the ability to bring a vast majority of its citizens into the middle class could be an inspiration.

Israel would be free of the economic burden it now bears to maintain control of Palestinian territories.

Israel and China's relationship has seen a warming in recent years, with China as Israel's third largest trading partner globally and the largest trading partner in East Asia.

China's proposals are in line with the international community's consensus, and Beijing's renewed interest in helping resolve the conflict in the region is welcome.

The first step is to bring Palestinian and Israeli leaders together at the negotiating table. The larger job will be ensuring the implementation and success of an agreed-upon deal and creating the conditions in which peace is not only possible, but practical.

The author is executive director of the OneVoice Movement, an NGO in the United States

Copyedited by Sudeshna Sarkar

Comments to liuyunyun@bjreview.com

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