Why did China host unity talks between Fatah and Hamas?

Last month, China hosted closed-door meetings in Beijing between representatives of the Palestinian political parties Fatah and Hamas to push towards intra-Palestinian reconciliation and a united Palestinian leadership.

While details of the meetings have been kept under wraps, leaks indicate that Azzam al-Ahmad headed Fatah’s delegation and Mousa Abu Marzook the Hamas delegation.

“Based on an invitation from China, Representatives of the Palestine National Liberation Movement (Fatah) and the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas) recently came to Beijing to hold in-depth and candid talks on promoting intra-Palestinian reconciliation,” stated Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lin Jian on 30 April, after acknowledging the talks had taken place.

In a press statement on 26 April, another foreign ministry spokesperson, Wang Wenbin, said in response to a question on these meetings: “We support strengthening the authority of the Palestinian National Authority, and support all Palestinian factions in achieving reconciliation and increasing solidarity through dialogue and consultation”.

A few days before, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi had reiterated that Beijing supported full membership for Palestine in the UN, which the US had opposed by vetoing the UN Security Council resolution in April. China also supported “the Palestinian State and its right to self-determination,” he added.

“We call for a larger, more credible and effective international peace conference to be convened as soon as possible, and for a tangible timeline and road map to be drawn up for the implementation of the two-state solution.”

"Beijing's initiative could be seen as China's bid to promote itself in front of the world as a state sponsor of peace after the breakthrough it achieved with Saudi Arabia and Iran" 

Need for a united Palestinian front

Lin Qin, professor of politics at the Guangdong Institute in China, told Al-Araby Al-Jadeed, The New Arab’s Arabic-language sister edition, that there was a prevailing belief in Chinese circles that the natural solution, in light of the current circumstances afflicting the Palestinian issue, is to take action to rearrange internal Palestinian affairs.

This would create a solid basis which can be built upon during the next stage, she added, because it is impossible to talk about an international peace conference between Palestinians and Israelis without there being a united Palestinian front.

The initiative to hold intra-Palestinian reconciliation talks in Beijing was a first step in China’s ongoing diplomatic efforts to bring security and peace to the Middle East region, part of which would include holding an international peace conference sponsored by China, said Lin.

She added that Beijing enjoyed good relations with all the Palestinian factions, including Fatah and Hamas, and from that vantage point was striving to overcome the obstacles between the two parties. China believes that the unity of the Palestinian people will be the basic guarantor in ensuring that they will be able to seize their rights and achieve the dream of a Palestinian state, she said.
Beijing enjoys good relations with all Palestinian political factions, including Fatah and Hamas. [Getty]
Unilateral decisions

China’s push for reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas comes less than a month after changes were implemented to the Palestinian Authority (PA), which governs the occupied West Bank. These were a result of US pressure on PA President Mahmoud Abbas to force him to adopt specific reforms in preparation for when the war on Gaza ended.

At the end of March, the PA formed a new government led by Prime Minister Mohammed Mustafa. Abbas said at the time that the remit of the new government would include the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza, highlighting that its role would include unifying Palestinian institutions, strengthening relief efforts, and reconstruction in Gaza and the West Bank.

However, Hamas and other Palestinian factions like Islamic Jihad, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), and the Palestinian National Initiative, opposed this step.

In a statement, the Palestinian factions stated that “the national priority right now is confronting the Israeli aggression, genocidal war, and starvation which the occupation is waging against the Gaza Strip”.

They emphasised that the PA’s adoption of unilateral decisions – like forming a new government without a national consensus – just deepened Palestinian divisions.

"Though a hugely influential state and permanent UNSC member, since the Gaza war started China has sufficed with calling for restraint, in addition to milder diplomatic moves" 

China as a sponsor of peace

Martin Li Yuan, a research fellow of the Kowloon Political Research Centre, believes that China understands the enormous difficulties around overcoming these divisions and achieving reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas, as the issue is tied inextricably to regional and international agendas and directly linked with the US administration.

In his view, the aim of Beijing’s initiative could be more accurately seen as China’s bid to promote itself in front of the world as a state sponsor of peace after the breakthrough it achieved with Saudi Arabia and Iran, and with its continuous attempts to mediate in the Ukraine crisis. He believes China, through such “investment”, is seeking to gain politically in the region.

He explained that China, even though it is a hugely influential state and permanent UNSC member, has sufficed with calling for restraint, in addition to milder diplomatic moves. This contrasts with the US, which has moved with all its force to defend its ally in the region, Israel.

Wan believes this has served as an alarm bell for China’s economic partners in the Middle East when it comes to the idea of reorienting themselves eastwards at the expense of their US ties. While China is not expected to make bold moves such as moving aircraft carriers to the region, as the US did, the Chinese role should at least be effective so as to be taken seriously, he stated.

Regarding the leverage that Beijing has, Wan explains that China is Israel’s largest trade partner in Asia, with bilateral trade between the two countries totalling around $22 billion and covering multiple fields, the most prominent being the technology sector.

China, therefore, could use this leverage to pressure Israel to stop the war. Additionally, he adds, within the Security Council, China, as a permanent member, should have put forward initiatives and draft resolutions within international institutions backing Palestinian rights.

Wan believes that the fragility of China’s position shows that we are still far away from a multi-polar world in which there is a balance of powers that could compete with the US and its international domination.

However, Wang Qipeng, a researcher in Chinese international relations, said China was taking action in the international arena based on well-established principles. At the forefront of these was the principle of non-intervention in the internal affairs of other states.

Refuting those who have “downplayed” China’s actions to date, Wang pointed out that China had used its veto within the UNSC against US draft resolutions which had aimed to give Israel the green light to commit further massacres against civilians in the Gaza Strip.

It had also refused to condemn Hamas in the way other states had, among them Arab and Islamic states, as well as calling for the facilitation of the entry of humanitarian aid to Gaza via the Rafah crossing, he added.

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