Analysis: The new Chinese four-point plan

Despite having other intentions for China trip, PM will be presented with a peace plan in meeting with Chinese president.

China's President Xi Jinping (R) and his Palestinian counter (photo credit: REUTERS/Jason Lee)
China's President Xi Jinping (R) and his Palestinian counter
(photo credit: REUTERS/Jason Lee)
SHANGHAI – When Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu meets Chinese President Xi Jinping on Thursday, part of the conversation will likely be taken up by a subject Netanyahu did not originally intended to discuss: a four-point Chinese peace plan.
Netanyahu did not intend to discuss this plan with the Chinese leader, because up until Monday such a plan did not exist, and was only unveiled after Xi met with visiting Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Beijing on Monday.
Although the components of the plan are not revolutionary and are very much in line with traditional Chinese policy on the Israeli-Palestinian issue, the Chinese have never before formulated their position into any type of orderly “plan.”
In retrospect, however, Israel should not have been surprised by the move.
It was no coincidence, for example, that Beijing invited Abbas to China at the same time Netanyahu was to be in the country. The timing of the visits should have set off warning bells that the traditionally un-interventionist Chinese policy in the Israeli-Palestinian issue was coming to an end.
The fact that Beijing was able to bring both Netanyahu and Abbas to the country, and for a very short while fuel speculation whether they might not hold a summit on Chinese soil, is a signal by the new Chinese government that they “want in,” that they want to be involved in any Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
Until now, the Chinese have avidly avoided involvement in this issue.
One of the basic assumptions in Jerusalem over the last few years regarding international diplomacy was that Russia and China had come to a silent understanding, an unstated division of labor: China would stay out of the Middle East and follow Russia’s lead on matters there, in return for Russia following China’s lead on issues in the Far East, particularly when regarding North Korea.
But as China’s economic clout is growing, that division of labor seems to be weakening. China wants to be a player in the Middle East in its own right, and not necessarily because of tremendous concern about either Israel or the Palestinians, but rather as a card to play – perhaps a point of leverage – with the United States.
Showing an interest in the Middle East diplomatic process, something the Chinese have little experience and limited expertise in, is not something that many around the world are going to stand up and take notice of.
Except in the US, where China’s motivations, tactics and strategy will be carefully scrutinized.
Just as the US has traditionally gotten Beijing’s attention by pushing the “Taiwan button,” so China can get Washington’s attention by taking strides to move in an area that has traditionally been US-led and dominated.
China’s message here to the US is clear: take us into consideration.
The message to the Israelis and Palestinians, at least as far as the content of the proposal, is not new.
The Chinese want to see a Palestinian state alongside a secure Israel, an end to settlement construction, an end to violence and an immediate start to negotiations. If anything, the proposal’s statement that Israel’s “legitimate security concerns should be fully respected” is something pleasing to Jerusalem.
The proposal, therefore, need not be a bone of contention between Beijing and Jerusalem as Netanyahu is trying to push the door to China open for Israeli businesses.
If anything, it should only underscore to Jerusalem why it is necessary for there always to be an Israeli or US initiative on the table. Absent such a US proposal, other actors – who are less concerned about Israel’s interests and for whom Israel has less impact – are going to move into the breach with their own suggestions: be it the Russians, the EU, the UN or – now – the Chinese.