The Chinese government announced on Friday that it would arrange a meeting between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas next week, when both leaders simultaneously visit the country, should the leaders be willing to do so.
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During a daily press briefing, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson said his country would be happy to facilitate such a meeting.
Netanyahu is scheduled to depart next week on his first diplomatic trip to China since becoming prime minister in 2009. He will head to Shanghai on Monday morning and then proceed to the Chinese capital, Beijing, on Tuesday. However, at this point in time it appears the two leaders' time in the capital will not overlap, for Abbas is due to depart Beijing on Tuesday, after arriving there Sunday.
China's Middle East special envoy Wu Sike visited the region a week ago and met with senior Israeli and Palestinian officials ahead of Netanyahu and Abbas's planned visits to Beijing. This was Wu's 10th visit to Jerusalem and Ramallah in the past four years. Wu said during his meeting with Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and Deputy Foreign Minister Zeev Elkin and other senior Israeli officials that China has long believed that the Palestine issue is at the core of Mideast tensions.
The stagnation of peace talks affects not only the stability and development of the Middle East but also the peace and stability of the world, said Wu. He added that, Pushing for its solution will have a positive impact on the entire region.
A senior Israeli official involved in the preparations for Netanyahu's trip stated that the Chinese have informed Israel that Abbas will be in China during the same dates as Netanyahu but emphasized that the overlap in their travel dates was entirely coincidental. The senior official added that Netanyahu is interested in focusing his trip first and foremost on economic matters like opening the Chinese market to Israeli goods and also the Iranian nuclear issue.
The source believed that Netanyahu and Abbas won't meet despite both leaders being in China at the same time because the peace process is at an impasse and due to the deep mistrust between the two leaders. Abbas took several opportunities over the past few months to make clear that his condition for meeting with Netanyahu would be Israeli concession gestures like freeing Palestinian security prisoners.
The Chinese announcement on the eve of both leaders' visits is interesting since China's involvement in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process has been very limited over the past 20 years. Just several years ago, China appointed as a special envoy to the Middle East whose principal focus in on the peace process. At the same time, the Chinese are very involved in other regional issues like the Iranian nuclear program and the Syrian civil war.