x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

No meeting in China for Abbas and Netanyahu

Deadlock continues between two sides despite Beijing's hopes. Hannah Gardner reports

BEIJING // The Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas wrapped up a three-day trip to Beijing yesterday without meeting Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was also visiting China.

The Chinese foreign ministry had said it would set up a rendezvous if both sides expressed an interest. Instead, the country's official news agency Xinhua reported that Mr Abbas left China's capital in the afternoon - while Mr Netanyahu was still in Shanghai.

"Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas concluded his state visit to China and left here on Tuesday. During his stay in China, (Mr) Abbas held talks with Chinese president Xi Jinping and met with Chinese premier Li Keqiang," the short report said.

Peace talks between the Israeli and Palestinian sides have been deadlocked for four years and the US president, Barack Obama, failed to get the two men in the same room during his trip to the Israel and the West Bank in March.

"The timing of these visits is very interesting," said Wang Lian, Middle East expert at the School of International Studies at Beijing University. "It shows China wants to have a more active role in international affairs and the Middle East."

China's role in the Middle East diplomacy has traditionally been low profile but, in recent years, it has tried to play a more active role in the region as part of its push for markets and diplomatic influence.

In the past two years, much to the US and the Israel's irritation, China has, along with Russia, provided diplomatic cover for Syria and Iran in the UN Security Council and voted in favour of recognising Palestine in the UN's general assembly.

Before he arrived in Beijing, Mr Abbas gave an interview to Xinhua saying he would discuss the obstacles to dialogue with Israel and ask China "to use its relationship with Israel to remove the obstacles that obstruct the Palestinian economy".

"It is very good that Netanyahu will visit China too because it is a good opportunity that the Chinese listen to both of us," Xinhua quoted him as saying.

After meeting Mr Abbas on Monday, Mr Xi, who took over as president in March, reiterated his country's support for an independent Palestinian state - as well as Israel's right to exist - saying: "So long as the legitimate national rights and interests of the Palestinian people cannot be restored, peace between Palestine and Israel cannot be realised."

A statement from Israel's embassy in Beijing said Mr Netanyahu - the first Israeli prime minister to visit China since Ehud Olmert in 2007 - would focus on bilateral ties in his discussions with Chinese leaders.

foreign.desk@thenational.ae

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