After the Israeli media leaked on June 6 that the prime minister would visit China in July, Benjamin Netanyahu responded on the 26th, saying that he was indeed invited to visit China. Because Netanyahu, who is now the prime minister of the far-right coalition government, has never had good relations with the Joe Biden administration in the United States, and has not received an invitation to visit the White House for six months after retaking office, Israeli public opinion has portrayed Netanyahu's visit to China as a diplomatic demonstration against the United States, and an anonymous senior official also admitted that Netanyahu's visit will be a "breaking line".

Netanyahu said that he had informed Washington about the trip a month ago and assured the bipartisan delegation of the US Congress that the United States will always be Israel's most important and irreplaceable ally. However, a number of former Israeli security officials have also criticized Netanyahu for copying Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, while ignoring the huge differences in relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia and the United States, believing that Netanyahu's practice of "eating two tea ceremonies" between China and the United States will only harm Israel's interests, and may even become a pawn in the Sino-US Cold War.

Indeed, when the United States suppresses China with scientific and technological warfare, Israel's high-tech industry has long been targeted by the United States. In December, a deputy assistant secretary of state publicly called on Israel to take further action to prevent Chinese investment in its advanced and critical technologies.

Amid the controversy, The Times of Israel said the trip scheduled for July could be postponed to October.

Is China interested in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process?

But whatever Netanyahu's political intentions, one of China's goals in inviting him appears to be to work on the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process, especially against the backdrop of the recent worsening Israeli-Palestinian armed conflict in the West Bank, where at least 114 West Bank Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces and Jewish settlers in the West Bank have attacked Palestinians more than 440 times this year.

June 2023, 6, near the Palestinian city of Ramallah: The situation of Jewish settlers after the destruction of Palestinian property. (Reuters)

In mid-June, Palestinian Self-Government President Mahmoud Abbas paid a state visit to China and established a strategic partnership with China that established China's long-standing relationship with a long-standing Palestine.

In the joint statement establishing a strategic partnership, China also stated its basic position on the settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian issue: "firmly supports the establishment of a fully sovereign and independent Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders and with East Jerusalem as its capital; supports the preservation of the status quo in the history of religious holy sites in Jerusalem; supports Palestine becoming a full member of the United Nations; supports the strengthening of Palestinian internal unity; supports Palestine's principle of land for peace, relevant United Nations resolutions, and the two-state solution." On the same basis, peace talks will be resumed with Israel and peaceful coexistence between Palestine and Israel will be realized."

After this visit, if China really invites Netanyahu to visit China in July, as Israeli media reports say, this will clearly show China's diplomatic goal of promoting the settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian issue. The whole layout is quite like the shadow of Xi Jinping and then Vice Premier Hu Chunhua visiting Saudi Arabia and Iran respectively in December last year, until the representatives of Saudi Arabia and Iran suddenly announced the resumption of diplomatic relations in Beijing in March this year. (Of course, the Israeli-Palestinian contradiction is more complicated than the severance of diplomatic relations between Saudi Arabia and Iraq.) )

Abbas met with Prime Minister Li Qiang during his visit to China. Mr. Abbas, 87, who has not held an election since he was elected in 2005, has been so disheartened that nearly eighty percent of Palestinians believe he should step down. (Reuters)

I don't know whether it is driven by China's success in promoting the resumption of diplomatic relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran, the Biden administration has also frequently but low-key promoted "secret diplomacy" between Iran, Saudi Arabia and Israel in recent months, seeking an informal "gentleman's agreement" on the nuclear issue with Iran on the one hand, and promoting the formal establishment of diplomatic relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel on the other hand.

U.S.-Iran "Gentlemen's Agreement"

On June 6, The New York Times, citing officials from Israel, Iran and the United States, reported that the United States was negotiating with Iran to reach an informal and unwritten "political ceasefire" agreement as a compromise between the two countries in the event that the two countries failed to return to the Iran nuclear deal.

Since former US President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from the nuclear deal in 2018 and imposed "extreme sanctions" on Iran, Iran has gradually violated the nuclear agreement and increased the scale and purity of enriched uranium. According to a May report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Iran has accumulated 5 kilograms of enriched uranium with a purity of 114 percent, to the point where there is no civilian use, and if it is 60 percent, it would be enough to make two nuclear bombs. In February, the IAEA also found samples of 90.2% purity at Iran's nuclear facilities. Now, if Iran really wants to build a nuclear weapon, it can be done in a few days.

Iran's supreme spiritual leader, Ali Khamenei, is 84 years old and fears of instability in his transition of power. (Reuters)

Iran's nemesis, Israel, the region's only nuclear-armed state, has long warned of the possibility of a preemptive strike to prevent Iran from building a nuclear weapon. But whether it is Israel or the United States, striking Iran by force will at best delay Iran's nuclear build-up and will not change its eventual path to becoming a nuclear-armed state (if Iran is determined to do so). Therefore, the only way out is to "talk".

However, under the haze of Trump's return to North Korea in 2025, the Biden administration cannot give assurances to Iran that it will not withdraw from the nuclear deal again. At the same time, the US Congress has the right to review any new Iran nuclear deal, and under the opposition of Congress, it is difficult for Biden to renegotiate an agreement by removing the definition of foreign terrorist organization for Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).

Therefore, the only thing that the United States and Iran can negotiate at this moment is the "gentleman's agreement" with the word "letter". According to the New York Times, Iran will agree to limit uranium enrichment to 60% purity (which is much higher than the nuclear deal's 3.67%), stop attacking U.S. targets in Syria and Iraq, expand cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency, and not sell ballistic missiles to Russia; The United States, for its part, has pledged not to tighten sanctions, shut down Iranian tankers, and push for resolutions to punish Iran on nuclear issues at the United Nations and the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Former U.S. President Donald Trump speaks at Bedminster Golf Club on June 2023, 6. Trump's potential victory is a major uncertainty about the continuity of U.S. foreign policy. (Reuters)

At the same time, the United States may also unblock frozen Iranian overseas funds, such as $70 billion in South Korea; Iran, on the other hand, would release the imprisoned Americans. (In early June, the United States issued sanctions waivers to Iraq for a $6.27 billion energy debt repayment to Iran.) )

If the United States and Iran can really reach this gentleman's agreement, due to politically sensitive considerations, neither side will probably announce any agreement. But if we see in the news that Iran is returning imprisoned Americans to the United States, or that Iran has not increased uranium enrichment in the IAEA report, we can probably assume that the two sides have reached a gentleman's agreement.

Can Israel and Saudi Arabia expect the historic establishment of diplomatic relations?

On the other hand, also according to the New York Times from US officials, Secretary of State Antony Blinken specially called Netanyahu after visiting Saudi Arabia in early June to meet with Crown Prince Mohammed to convey to him Mohammed's conditions for establishing diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia and Israel. In May, White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan visited Saudi Arabia for this purpose; Shortly after Blinken left Saudi Arabia, Brett McGurk, the Middle East and North Africa coordinator of the National Security Council, also went to Saudi Arabia to continue consultations in a low-key manner.

According to various reports, Saudi Arabia has imposed conditions on both the United States and Israel. As for the United States, Saudi Arabia has demanded that the United States agree to Saudi Arabia's development of civilian nuclear technology (which could gradually turn into nuclear weapons development), provide Saudi Arabia with the same security guarantees that the United States is negotiating with the United Arab Emirates, and allow Saudi Arabia to purchase high-level U.S. armaments like NATO members or non-major NATO allies.

On June 6, Blinken held talks with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed. (Reuters)

For Israel, Mohammed telegraphed Netanyahu twice in May, mainly to demand concessions on the Palestinian issue, including strengthening the Palestinian autonomous government's security capabilities in the West Bank, reducing the role of the Israel Defense Forces, and putting Palestinian Authority security forces in charge of the Al-Aqsa Mosque, which often clashes on the Temple Mount. While such concessions are far from the 5 Arab peace initiative's premise of establishing an independent Palestinian state as a prerequisite for diplomatic relations with Israel, they would at least give Mohammed an answer to the Palestinian population in the Arab world who are generally sympathetic to the Palestinians.

Optimistic observers had expected Israel and Saudi Arabia to open direct flights during this year's Hajj (June 6-July 26) to signal the momentum for normalizing relations. However, direct flights did not work out in the end. Israel said that the agreement between Israel and Saudi Arabia should be premised on the agreement between the United States and Saudi Arabia, and believed that there is a "window of opportunity" for the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries before the United States enters the election period in March next year.

The two-line diplomacy of the United States with Iran and Israel and Saudi Arabia can be regarded as complementary. If Netanyahu can get the historic achievement of establishing diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia from the United States, he may reduce the pressure in the negotiations between the United States and Iraq. At this moment, Israeli-Palestinian relations are becoming more and more tense, and even when the United States has to criticize Israel for going too far, using Israel's and Saudi relations to induce Israel to reduce its suppression of the Palestinians can also temporarily avoid a potential conflict that the United States cannot but intervene.

At the same time, if Biden can ease the regional conflict through the "gentleman's agreement" with Iran and promote the historic achievement of establishing diplomatic relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia, he can also prove to the world that the United States is still the dominant player in the Middle East situation, and its position has not been weakened by China's intervention in regional affairs.

Of course, if China can promote the development of the Israeli-Palestinian issue in the direction of reconciliation when Biden's two diplomatic operations have not yielded results, the world will once again witness the positive role of China's expansion of global influence after the resumption of diplomatic relations between Saudi Arabia and Iraq.

If we interpret today's Middle East diplomatic trend from the perspective of Sino-US competition, as the Israeli media do, this is probably a rare example of healthy competition between China and the United States.

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