As Israel and Palestine navigate through the troubled waters of the conflict, they may look towards China for conflict resolution in their favour. This opinion piece explores the potential strategies both parties might seek from China to further their objective.

China’s influence has grown substantially with respect to the prolonged Israel-Palestine Conflict. To solve the seven-decade-long conflict on its own terms, the Palestinian leadership is looking towards China for seeking assistance in attaining complete sovereignty. Conversely, Israel intends to use China’s diplomatic clout to establish stability and put a halt to militancy in the region. Thus, it is important to explore different strategic alignments and expectations that both Israel and Palestine have from China. Such an analysis will also reveal what each of the warring sides stands to gain, if any, from cooperating with China. 

Palestine’s Strategic Alignment with China

As the Palestinian Authority aims to terminate the current Israeli campaign in Gaza, it hopes that China, which is the second largest global economic and military power, can provide dynamic and long-lasting solutions to the ongoing and prolonged Israel Palestine Conflict. China has already shown support for the Palestinian cause in June 2023. When Xi Jinping met Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, he reiterated China’s position of  supporting the cause of Palestinian national rights and a two-state solution. In the complexities of West Asian geo-politics, China has shown a successful model of mediation and conflict resolution between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Following China’s masterly diplomatic manoeuvre of Saudi-Iran détente, the Palestinian leadership hopes China to provide a comprehensive path for establishing Palestinian political sovereignty over its territories including East Jerusalem (Al-Aqsa).

In 2023, both Palestine and China agreed on establishing a strategic partnership between both countries during President Mahmoud Abbas's visit to Beijing. Building on this growing partnership, the Palestinian Authority can offer a proposal to China to include a Joint Security and Défense cooperation which would ensure a ceasefire between Israel and Palestine. The joint Défense cooperation will have China and Palestine as two main parties with Egypt and Jordan as key observer states. If an escalatory cycle of violence starts, the coalition parties to this agreement would act as a peacekeeping mechanism and even use force to enforce the ceasefire. If Israel escalates to a certain level where there is a considerable loss of human lives as there is in the current Israel-Palestine conflict, then Israel will be met with immediate and co-ordinated international response through this agreement. Also, through this agreement, both parties to conflict can be pursued to come to the negotiating table  to ensure peace and tranquillity rather than continuing the escalatory cycle of violence. 

China is already working on an intra-Palestinian reconciliation between different political groups like Hamas and Fatah. The Palestinian Authority, which is run by Fatah, would want all factions to come on board and to recognize the Authority as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people. Current Palestinian Authority would expect China to play a major role in it by also pressuring its strategic partner Iran to persuade Hamas to accept the legitimacy of the Authority. Palestine would seek China’s assistance to leverage its relationship with other countries to push for recognition of the state of Palestine based on the 1967 borders.

Palestine and China can also approach this from the lens of struggle of the oppressed against the western-backed imperialist oppressor. Chinese representative Ma Xinmin, at the International Court of Justice, made remarks in support of Palestinian position on February 11, 2024, when he said “The Palestinian-Israeli conflict stems from Israel’s prolonged occupation of Palestinian territory and Israel’s long-standing oppression of the Palestinian people. The Palestinian people fight against Israeli oppression and their struggle for completing the establishment of an independent State on the occupied territories are, essentially, just actions for restoring their legitimate rights.” This language of political struggle would connect more with the post-colonial states especially in the Global South. By doing this, both China and Palestine gain from the perceived anti-imperialist sentiments in many post-colonial states and from the anti-west sentiment in the Islamic world. Also, by portraying this as a moral stand, China tends to improve its standing in the Islamic world which further helps to legitimize its actions in Xinjiang and making China more influential in Muslim majority states.

In May 2024, Chinese President Xi Jinping called on leaders of Arab states and propagated for an effective resolution of the Israel Palestine conflict. China, under Xi Jinping, has been deepening co-operation and ties with the Arab world. As China wields a considerable influence in the Arab world, Palestine would want China to pursue them into not signing any more agreements that normalize their relations with Israel until some progress is visible towards the two-state solution. As the support for Palestinian statehood solidifies, China will also push for Palestinian membership in the United Nations which it has already shown the intention for.

Along with political sovereignty, Palestine would also require autonomy on its economic affairs for the viability of the state, especially when a large percentage of youth population is deprived of education and employment opportunities. China is Israel’s second largest trading partner which Palestine can use to its advantage. Palestine will want to persuade China to threaten trade and investment barriers on Israel if it does not allow free trade and movement from its coastal area in Gaza which is currently under Israeli blockade. Although the scenario of imposition of economic barriers by China seems to be least likely, but still the Palestinians can propose this as a strategy. Palestinian Authority Minister Ahmad Majdalani had suggested such a leverage. Palestine has a high percentage of young population with the median age being just around 20 years. For realising its economic potential, the Palestinian Authority can also sign a free trade agreement under the Belt and Road Initiative which would include large investments on energy and infrastructure. In future, if Palestine does succeed in getting political and economic sovereignty under the aegis of China, both would gain economically and politically from the stability which is less heard of in that region.

Israel’s Calculated Engagement with China

In the wake of Israel Hamas war, China overtly took a pro-Palestinian stance and did not outrightly condemn Hamas which was contrary to Israel’s expectations. However, Israel did not escalate tensions with China as it did with some other countries, hoping to engage via diplomacy to its advantage in the future. Israel’s approach towards China in future can be on some of the following strategies: security and stability on Israel Palestine borders, to have similar view on militant groups and terrorism, contain Iranian influence and decouple the Israel-Palestine issue from US-China rivalry.

Israel can propose China to ensure stability and security on the current borders between Israel and Palestine in the context of what it considers as militant activities especially from Gaza. Israel can put forward a proposal through which China, using its strategic framework with Palestine, will ensure that Palestinians will not take part in any militant activities and hence do not start the escalation. China can make this stoppage of cross border militancy proposal as part of the larger strategic framework with Palestine. From an Israeli viewpoint, militant activities from Gaza are their biggest worry as compared to Palestinian Authority controlled West Bank. If China can bring the all Palestinian territories including Gaza under the control of one single Palestinian Authority, that would resolve much of Israel’s concerns about militant-led struggle. 

Israel would also persuade China to not recognise or deal with any of the groups which it considers as militant organisations. It would highlight the issue of Islamist terrorism through diplomatic channels and can draw parallels with China’s experiences in Xinjiang. It would make attempts to bring China on the same page as itself of what it views as terrorism especially since China has refused to toe Israel’s stance on October 7 incident. Israel can also urge China to influence Iran to stop aiding groups indulging in militant activities emanating from Palestinian territories. Iran has a considerable influence on Palestinian militant groups like Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. China and Iran share a comprehensive strategic partnership and Iran relies a lot on China for support in international forums. Without any kind of financial or military support, groups like Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad will have to cease their operations and Israel can use China’s political sway over Iran to curb that support.

China’s stance on Israel Hamas war is also being seen through the lens of great power competition between United States of America and China. Israel would pursue China to de-hyphenate Israel-Palestine conflict from China’s rivalry with the USA. In the case of any Chinese mediation and a proposal for solving Israel Palestine conflict, Israel would advocate China to consider Jerusalem’s significance for Israel and to view this from a civilizational perspective, as China gives significance to its own civilization. Chinese President Xi Jinping views Chinese civilization as an ancient, continuous culture that contributes to China's unique global role and has proposed Global Civilization Initiative to leverage this position. Israel understands China's respect for ancient civilizations and its concerns over domestic Islamist extremism. Thus, Israel can suggest the Chinese to not look at the conflict from an anti-imperialist lens but to view the Israel-Palestine conflict through a civilizational lens, positioning Israel as a defender of an ancient, civilized heritage against what it portrays as radical Islamist forces

Road Ahead: A New Chapter or More Entanglements

Palestine looks at China’s role as a glimmer of light and hopes that it can help bring about a resolution of a long-drawn conflict in its favour. The Palestinian Authority hopes China can align itself with their political movement and help achieve Palestinian political sovereignty by using Chinese diplomatic and economic clout. They foresee China balancing out the western backing of Israel and showing a way towards two-state solution, one that would be in Palestinian favour. In contrast, Israel believes that China can see through Israeli security concerns and believe in its historical and civilizational narrative. Israel would want China to maintain a balance in its relationship with respect to the two warring states while also persuade it to not consider the Israel-Palestine conflict as part of the larger hegemonic battle between China and the United States. Both sides view Chinese involvement through their lenses of opportunity and want China’s unwavering support to sway in their way. Nonetheless, they should also keep in mind that great power involvement can either solve a long-standing conflict or introduce newer complexities to an already thorny dispute.

Author

Kushal Agrawal is a Research Associate at the Organisation for Research on China and Asia. He has a robust background, having worked at the Indian Pugwash Society and MP-IDSA. He holds a Master’s degree in International Relations and Strategic Studies from Jindal Global University and a Master’s degree in Economics from the University of Mumbai. Kushal has produced comprehensive news digests and issue briefs and has coordinated high-profile events, offering valuable insights into global and regional issues.

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