With the Palestinians continuing to say that the US under President Donald Trump cannot be a mediator in a peace process with Israel, Japan and China are both trying to take small steps onto the diplomatic playing field.
Visiting Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono invited Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to a summit in Tokyo, and the Chinese last week hosted informal delegations from both sides for talks on how to restart the process.
One diplomatic official in Jerusalem said on Tuesday that Netanyahu would only agree to a summit in Tokyo if the United States was invited as well.
“The Japanese are serious, and we will go anywhere any time” to meet Abbas, the official said. “It is in the hands of the Americans. We want them to be involved in the process, and if they agree and go, we will have no objections.”
Following Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital earlier this month, the Palestinians said Washington was no longer an “honest broker” and could not play a role in the diplomatic process.
The Walla website reported that Kono also extended an invitation to Abbas, and that the initiative by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe comes as Tokyo completes a decade of involvement in a joint Japanese-Israeli-Palestinian-Jordanian “Peace Corridor” project in the Jordan Valley. That project was launched in Tokyo in 2007.
In Beijing, meanwhile, Israeli and Palestinian delegations – with active Chinese help – hammered out a policy paper called “Moving toward a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict” that is based on a two-state solution.
The Israeli delegation was led by Zionist Union MK Hilik Bar, who is the deputy speaker of the Knesset and head of the Knesset’s Caucus for the Two-State Solution, and included – among others – Geneva Initiative director Gadi Baltiansky.
The Palestinian team included senior officials Nabil Sha’ath and Ahmad Majdalani.
What made this initiative different from other Track II efforts involving experts and academics such as the Geneva Initiative that have taken place over the years, was that it took place in Beijing, and was organized by the Chinese, Bar told The Jerusalem Post
in a phone interview from China.
That this meeting took place in China, and not Switzerland, is a “big difference,” he said. “Here you have a superpower entering the game that could make a difference with the Palestinians.”
The meeting comes in the wake of a four-point proposal for Mideast peace put forward over the summer by Chinese President Xi Jinping.
That plan calls for a two-state solution based on the pre-1967 lines, with east Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state; an end to settlement activity and violence against civilians; ideas from the international community to put forward peace-promoting measures; and “promoting peace through development.”
The symposium held in Beijing was part of the Xi’s third point: getting ideas from the international community. Bar said that China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi was intimately involved in the discussions for more than two days, even though “he has a lot of other things on his plate.”
What the Chinese are trying to do, Bar said, is be “very involved in the Middle East in general and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in particular, against the background of the four points put forward by the president.”
In addition, he said, they are showing that they can bring Palestinian and Israel delegations together at a time of heightened tension resulting from Trump’s proclamation regarding Jerusalem, and the UN vote slamming the decision that followed.
“At a time when the sides are not sitting and talking anywhere else, they brought two delegations together,” he said.
Asked if he genuinely wanted to see China step in now as a major broker in the Mideast diplomatic process, Bar said that he made it clear throughout the deliberations that the delegation did not see the Chinese in place of the Americans, and that this is something that the Chinese themselves understand.
“They said they don’t want to replace the Americans, but help,” he said. And Bar believes the Chinese can help.
“Any actor that can cause either side to make the necessary compromises in the negotiations would be great,” he said.
He explained that if the US may be able to get Israel to make the “necessary concessions,” then the Chinese, with others, may be the ones able to place pressure on the Palestinians to do the same.
“Maybe that is the magic formula that was lacking in the past, that the Palestinians would feel more pressure to take certain steps if they have to give an accounting to others, besides the Americans,” he said.
Besides diplomatic leverage resulting from its status as a world power, China is also investing in the Palestinian Authority and has developed economic leverage as well, he said.
Bar, who said that his trip was coordinated with the Foreign Ministry, though not with the Prime Minister’s Office, stressed that he made it clear to the Chinese that he was heading a delegation that could make no decision on behalf of Israel, or in any way represented the government.
He said that China’s increased interest in involvement in the diplomatic process now was not disconnected from its mega infrastructure project called the One Belt One Road initiative that runs through parts of the Middle East and which China hopes will revive the ancient Silk Road.
But economic interests were not the only motivating factor, he said. “There is also a desire to show that they are a genuine world power, and – as a world power – what happens elsewhere is important to them. They understand that everything is connected to everything.”
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