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Abbas’ visit is the latest sign the Middle East is tilting towards China

Mahmoud Abbas’ visit to China reflects the ironies of contemporary international politics.

On an official visit last week, the Palestinian president called on Beijing to apply pressure on Israel to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Everyone who knows anything about the conflict knows that will make zero difference because Israel is the ultimate “decider” by its sheer military dominance on the ground and complete ideological takeover of Washington.

But what Abbas is really doing is telling Washington to stuff it and that the Palestinians can’t do any worse by appealing to Beijing.

Both the visit and the call expose the many double standards and hypocrisies today.

Abbas’ call ultimately makes as much or as little sense as the West’s insistence that Beijing must denounce Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and pressure Moscow to retreat to its pre-2014 borders.

Call that the reverse Abbas. It’s in the West’s geopolitical interest to prevent China exerting increasing influence in the Middle East; and so no one in the West would demand greater Chinese involvement on the Palestine question. This is despite the fact that Beijing actually enjoys good relations with both Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

On the other hand, the West wants to tar the Chinese with the same brush as the Russians even though they have nothing to do with the invasion, have offered the only peace plan available, and are not the ones rushing advanced military hardware to Ukraine where all that has been achieved is a stalemate and continuing mass slaughter. The same Western politicians and pundits keep making spurious claims about “Ukraine today, Taiwan tomorrow” as if to encourage the Chinese. Of course, the whole point is just propaganda.

By the way, what’s happening to that much-touted Ukrainian counteroffensive that was going to send the Russians packing?

As for the question of recognition and national self-determination, the status of Palestine has been the most intractable and painful for the world for more than half a century, thanks in no small part to the monumental mistakes and disasters wrought by the West and particularly the US.

Not content to mess things up in the Middle East, the West now wants to do the same again in Asia.

Consider the questions of Palestine and Taiwan in terms of international recognition. Today, 139 of the 193 United Nations member states recognise the state of Palestine – a majority of nations around the world. By contrast, Taiwan is recognised by only a handful of small states – 13 if you count the Vatican as a de jure state – and even that number is dwindling. The island almost lost Paraguay but for a close election in late April in Asuncion.

And yet, the West, especially the English-speaking countries, are acting increasingly as if Taiwan is an independent ally – the mother of all red lines for China – while actively undermining Palestinian statehood.

While the West turns a blind eye to Israel’s illegal and brutal military occupation that is now 56 years old and counting, it’s happy to turn the invasion of one country by another in Europe’s own backyard into a global moral crusade and castigates the Global South for not joining it.

Thanks to long-standing and misguided hubris, the West has set the Middle East on fire for more than half a century, lit a fire under its own mattress in eastern Europe, which now threatens to spread westward, and wants to start another conflagration in the Asia-Pacific. I say, no thanks!

The dominant media-industrial complex in the West has been in overdrive propagandising that the latest global trends show an alarming threat of rising autocracies against defensive democracies. More Cold War-style proxy wars and coups, perhaps?

But on the ground, it looks more like regional leaders in Asia, the Middle East and Latin America are trying to determine their own destinies and to balance or at most accommodate Western-US interests in their neighbourhoods.

Led by Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States are deepening relations with China. Even before the Ukraine conflict and an alarmed China’s need for energy sources, trade between the Saudis and Chinese jumped from slightly more than US$4 billion in 2001 to US$87 billion in 2021, which was more than the Saudi trade with the US and the European Union combined.

With trade comes political realignment. While Western pundits may like to play down the significance of the Iranian-Saudi rapprochement brokered by Beijing, Abbas understands fully the shifting politics in his region that is now tilting towards the East rather than the West. In this context, his visit makes perfect sense.

Reciprocally, Beijing understands that its credibility with the proverbial “Arab street” (public opinion) requires it to play a more constructive and engaged role in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict beyond making anodyne statements.

And why not? The history of the West and the US in the Middle East is really nothing to write home about. China has decent relations with the Palestinians and Israelis. Many Israelis themselves understand the worst thing that could happen to the Jewish state is to have its territorial wish completely realised over Palestine. In this context, Israel’s almost complete capture of the ruling political and business elites in the US has been more of a curse than a blessing.

Who knows? Maybe one of these days, an Israeli government may find Beijing quite useful as a diplomatic middleman.

Source : South China Morning Post