Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Friday called upon the international community to “refrain from dealing” with the next Israeli government if it refuses to accept the principle of two states for two peoples.
“These days we do not have a partner in Israel who believes in a two-state solution on the basis of international law, previously signed agreements, and the rejection of violence and terrorism,” Abbas said while in Riyadh at the inaugural China-Arab States Summit.
The conference was hosted by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman and attended by Chinese President Xi Jinping, who also met with Abbas.
Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu is currently working to form a government after his bloc won a majority of seats in national elections on November 1.
Though he once backed a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in recent years Netanyahu has changed his tune and spoken out against the establishment of a Palestinian state.
Palestinians say Netanyahu’s policies of settlement expansion in the West Bank have rung the death knell for two states by making it virtually impossible to establish a geographically contiguous Palestinian state. Supporters of Netanyahu note that when Israel has withdrawn from disputed territory — in south Lebanon in 2000, and Gaza in 2005 — it has been taken over by terrorist groups (Hezbollah and Hamas, respectively), and used to attack Israel.
When outgoing Prime Minister Yair Lapid used his own 2022 address to the United Nations General Assembly to back a two-state solution, the Likud party accused him of seeking to “hand over homeland territory to our enemies.”
Some of the Knesset members slated to join Netanyahu’s prospective cabinet have called for full annexation of the West Bank, including Bezalel Smotrich, whose Religious Zionism party is set to take over roles in the Defense Ministry that will give him broad policy-making powers in the West Bank.
Friday’s summit in Riyadh, attended by representatives from around the Arab world, aimed to “bolster strategic cooperation between Arab states and to deepen Arab-Chinese collaboration across several domains,” according to a joint statement from participants. The statement also stressed “the importance of working together to achieve sustainable development and working together to implement the ‘Silk Road Initiative.'”
The Silk Road Initiative, also known as the Belt and Road Initiative, refers to massive Chinese investment in infrastructure projects throughout Eurasia and Africa with the purpose of facilitating global trade flows. Chinese spending on such projects is predicted to exceed $1 trillion by 2027, according to several analyses.
A significant aspect of the initiative involves Chinese funding to develop ports in the Gulf, which will streamline the export of oil to China, a country poor in that particular resource.
Critics warn the initiative is part of a Chinese drive to massively expand its influence over developing countries.
China’s $89 million in trade with the Palestinian Territories in 2021 paled in comparison the $16.2 billion of Chinese trade with Israel, but it has significant business interests in the Arab world.
China has historically tended to remain on the sidelines of diplomatic initiatives in the Middle East, but that has started to change in recent years.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi presented a five-point plan for peace and security in the Middle East during a visit to Saudi Arabia in March of 2021. Four months later, Wang, while in Egypt, sketched out a plan — albeit a nebulous one — for arriving at a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
At Friday’s summit, President Xi said that “the historical injustice suffered by the Palestinians cannot continue” and affirmed his country’s “support for the two-state solution and the establishment of a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders, and with East Jerusalem as its capital.”
Xi also called for the Palestinians’ UN representatives to be granted “full membership in the United Nations.”
Abbas has long fought for full member status in the UN in order to strengthen the Palestinians’ diplomatic position. Currently, the State of Palestine is an “observer non-member,” a status it shares only with the Holy See.
Critics say Palestinian appeals to the international community are a way to pressure Israel while avoiding direct negotiations.
At the summit meeting, Abbas once again mentioned Israel’s failure to meet its obligations set by two UN resolutions in particular: Resolution 181 from 1947, which partitioned Mandatory Palestine into a Jewish and an Arab state, and 1948’s Resolution 194, often interpreted to enshrine Palestinians’ right to return to the places from which they left, fled or were expelled during the War of Independence.
Abbas claimed on Friday at the summit — reiterating a point he had made in an interview two days earlier — that Israel’s admittance to the UN as a full member in 1949 was conditioned on promises to comply with the two resolutions.
Israel’s promises to comply are in fact noted in the text of the resolution admitting Israel, but they’re not portrayed as having been necessary conditions for the new state’s accession.
Arab political representatives rejected Resolution 181 when it was passed by the UN, and Arab nations went on to launch what became the War of Independence against the nascent Jewish state.