Backing UN moves and Iran deal, China shows Netanyahu it’s not (only) about the money
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Backing UN moves and Iran deal, China shows Netanyahu it’s not (only) about the money

Chinese premier also stresses hopes for Israeli-Palestinian peace in talks with Israeli PM, despite visit's focus on trade ties

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

China's Premier Li Keqiang (4th L) meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (3rd R) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on March 20, 2017 (AFP PHOTO / POOL / Lintao Zhang)
China's Premier Li Keqiang (4th L) meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (3rd R) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on March 20, 2017 (AFP PHOTO / POOL / Lintao Zhang)

BEIJING — Israel’s focus on expanding business ties with China during Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit here ran into adversarial territory Monday, as Beijing expressed support for a UN resolution condemning West Bank settlements and the Iran nuclear deal.

While officials stopped short of explicitly demanding a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, China’s prime minister said it hoped to see the two sides coexisting in peace.

Beijing again expressed full support for the Iranian nuclear deal as an anchor of regional and global peace, despite Jerusalem’s strong objections to the accord.

“As a friend of both Israel and Palestine, China hopes to see the peaceful coexistence of the two sides and stability in the Middle East,” Chinese Premier Li Keqiang told Netanyahu during a meeting in the Chinese capital Monday, according to a readout of the meeting provided by the Chinese government.

Netanyahu has sought to make expending bilateral trade a focus of the three-day visit, which began Sunday, bringing a gaggle of business leaders and government ministers with him to sign a series of deals.

During their meeting Monday in the Great Hall of the People, Netanyahu and Li agreed to accelerate negotiations about the establishment of a Free Trade Zone and the work of the special economic cooperation committee. The two leaders also discussed a “fast track” for Israeli and Chinese investors to streamline the way to joint agreements, and a direct air link between Shanghai and Tel Aviv.

“We think there are only two such concentrations of technology in the world for the moment… We are eager to work with you. We’re going to sign with the government in the coming days a series of agreements on how we can pursue this cooperation, how we can help China in its plans and how China of course can enable us to participate in its great projects. But I believe this is a marriage made in heaven,” Netanyahu said at the beginning of the meeting.

A Chinese official said that during their talks, Li had told Netanyahu that he backed UN moves toward Palestinian statehood

China's Premier Li Keqiang (2nd R) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (2nd L) attend a signing ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on March 20, 2017 (AFP PHOTO / Lintao Zhang)
China’s Premier Li Keqiang (2nd R) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (2nd L) attend a signing ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on March 20, 2017 (AFP PHOTO / Lintao Zhang)

“Premier Li has expressed that China does not have its own interest in the Israeli-Palestinian issue. We’d like to see the issue properly solved in line with the UN resolution and international consensus,” Deng Li, the director-general of the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s Department of West Asian and North African Affairs, told reporters.

He was likely referring to UN Security Resolution 2334, which condemned Israeli settlement building as illegal and which Israel rejected as unfair and biased.

China voted in favor of the text, which passed on December 23 with 14 yes-votes and a US abstention.

Deng did not condemn settlement construction or explicitly call for the creation of a Palestinian state. Netanyahu has in recent weeks refrained from mentioning the two-state solution.

China has never been a major player in international efforts to solve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, but as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, wields considerable influence over the issue.

Deng said that the two premiers also discussed the Iran nuclear deal, reached in 2015 between Tehran and six world power, including China, over vociferous Israeli objections.

“China’s position has always been clear. That is, we need to strictly implement the JCPOA,” he said, using the acronym for the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the pact’s formal name. “And the starting point of this implementation is to safeguard the nonproliferation system and world peace. Also, the JCPOA will be very conducive for regional and international peace.”

There was no immediate Israeli comment on the meeting.

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