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Can peace still be restored in Middle East?

By Fan Hongda | CHINA DAILY | Updated: 2024-04-24 07:04
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China has expressed profound disappointment following the US veto of a Palestinian request for full UN membership in the UN Security Council on April 18. The resolution received 12 votes in favor, two abstentions from the UK and Switzerland, and one opposing vote from the US.

In March 2023, Saudi Arabia and Iran achieved reconciliation with China's mediation, subsequently followed by Turkiye easing decade-long tensions with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. It was also anticipated that relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia would normalize.

But the Hamas attacks on Israel on Oct 7, 2023, and the outbreak of the Israel-Palestine conflict have "halted" the reconciliation trend in the Middle East. Saudi Arabia has postponed the talks with Israel to normalize relations, with Arab countries divided over whether and how to punish Israel for the relentless attacks on Gaza, in which nearly 34,000 people, a majority of them women and children, have been killed.

Relations between Israel and Turkiye, too, are not normal. Worse, Israel bombed the Iranian Consulate in Syria on April 1, raising tensions to a new height in the Middle East. And after Iran retaliated by launching a calculated attack on Israel on April 14, Israel's response is being closely watched.

Before the Gaza crisis, the reconciliation trend reflected the Middle East's desire for peace. The ongoing Israeli attacks on Gaza and the Iran-Israel confrontation show that long-term peace remains a dream for the Middle East. It is not difficult to ascertain that the root cause of confrontations and conflicts in the region is the Palestinian issue and the mutual dislike between Iran and Israel.

Immediately after the Oct 7 Hamas attacks, Israel accused Iran of being behind them. After Israel bombed Iran's consulate in Syria, Iran said it was an Israeli attempt to divert international attention from the crisis in Gaza.

The ongoing Israel-Palestine conflict and the Israel-Iran confrontation have made it even more difficult to restore long-term peace and promote development in the region. On March 25, 2024, more than 170 days since the Israel-Palestine conflict broke out, the United Nations Security Council finally adopted the first resolution, calling for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza and the unconditional release of all hostages.

However, negotiations between Israel and Hamas on a cease-fire and the release of hostages have not been successful so far. On the one hand, the Israeli defense minister has said that Israel will not stop the attacks on Gaza while the hostages are still held in Gaza. On the other hand, Hamas has emphasized that the prerequisite for the release of the hostages is a permanent cease-fire and the withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza.

The biggest concern at present is whether Israel will attack the southern Gaza city of Rafah, where hundreds of thousands of Gaza residents have fled to escape the Israeli onslaught in central and northern Gaza. Reports say about 1.4 million Palestinians are now in Gaza. As such, any Israeli attack on Rafah will lead to an even bigger humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

Reports suggest Israel plans to attack Rafah, but has not yet said when.

However, the global focus on Gaza has somewhat diminished because of the Israeli-Iranian confrontation. After the Israeli attack on the Iranian consulate in Syria on April 1 and Iran's retaliatory attack, the world has been closely watching Israel's next move. It is obvious that an Iran-Israel conflict would be far more damaging for the Middle East and the world.

Both the Palestine issue and the Israel-Iran confrontation have obvious international characteristics. Therefore, it is difficult to find the key to resolving them based on the perspective of a single country.

Since the two-state solution, based on relevant United Nations resolutions, is the best way to resolve the Palestinian issue, the international community must urge Israel as well as Palestine to implement the two-state solution. More importantly, external powers should stop blindly supporting Palestine or Israel, such as weapons that could fuel their conflicts.

As for the Israel-Iran confrontation, the two countries must first acknowledge each other's right to exist. Almost as important is that between Iran and Israel, some countries can no longer continue to seriously support one side in attacking the other. That can only intensify rather than alleviate the Israel-Iran conflict.

The author is a professor at the Middle East Studies Institute, Shanghai International Studies University. The views don't necessarily represent those of China Daily.

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