A Chinese Lesson

If China succeeds in helping Israel find the economic motivation to end the occupation, it may turn out that Netanyahu is right, and that China is a true friend of Israel

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Chinese President Xi Jinping shake hands ahead of their talks at Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing, China March 21, 2017.

We’re eager to work with you” said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the heads of Chinese corporations, during his visit to China last month. This week Netanyahu had an opportunity to demonstrate just how eager we are. On Sunday the cabinet formally yielded to a condition placed by China before signing an agreement on recruiting Chinese workers to Israel’s labor market. This condition stipulates that Chinese construction workers who come here to work will not be employed in the West Bank or in East Jerusalem. By ratifying this agreement the cabinet gave its de facto acquiescence to a boycott of the settlements.

Negotiations between Israel and China have been going on for two years, due to China’s insistence that these workers not be sent to settlements and due to Israel’s unwillingness to sign an agreement in which it expressly upholds a boycott of settlements. After two years of efforts to circumvent this problem the Foreign Ministry managed to come up with some clever formula that allows such a boycott without calling it such by name.

“The two sides agree that Chinese workers recruited within the framework of this agreement will work in agreed-upon areas that are designated for this purpose from time to time.” The agreement contains an appendix which specifies which communities are included in the consensus — not one of them lies beyond the 1967 border, the Green Line.

Last January the Chinese foreign ministry’s spokesman explained that China “is opposed to construction of Jewish settlements on occupied Palestinian land in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. UN Security Council Resolution 2334, which was adopted recently, defines clear guidelines in this matter.”

Israel’s quiet and unreported surrender to the Chinese demand provides an important lesson: When our friends around the world insist on matching their actions with their declarations Israel adapts to the exigencies of reality. Although, as expected, the Yesha Council of Jewish settlements assailed this agreement, cabinet ministers voted in its favor.

“I’m leading Israel’s foreign relations to an unprecedented blossoming, embracing a proud and decisive policy based on national pride, rather than one in which we bow our heads and grovel” wrote Netanyahu on his Facebook page on Tuesday, referring to his refusal to meet Germany’s Foreign Minister, Sigmar Gabriel. It’s quite possible that the muscle-flexing directed at the German minister was intended to deflect attention away from Israel’s submission to the Chinese boycott.

In recent years Netanyahu has often boasted about the new diplomatic and economic ties Israel is forging in the Far East, hinting at the fact that over there people don’t care as much about the occupation, as they do in Europe. Only a month ago he declared in China that he believes that this was “a match made in heaven.” If China succeeds where Europe and the United States have failed, helping Israel find the economic motivation to part from the territories and end the occupation, it may turn out that Netanyahu is right, and that China is a true friend of Israel.

The above article is Haaretz's lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.