|Chinese Special Envoy on the Middle East Issue Wang Shijie Talks About His Middle East Tour|
On the morning of November 30, the International Press Center (IPC) of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs invited Chinese Special Envoy on the Middle East Issue Wang Shijie to brief both domestic and international correspondents as well as news officers from foreign embassies in China on his tour to Palestine and Israel from November 23 to 26.
Wang first gave an overview of the background of his Middle East tour. He said that the visit took place shortly after President of the Palestinian National Authority Yasser Arafat passed away. The situation in the Middle East influences the stability and peace of world situation. The whole international community has been keen on how the situation in the Middle East will evolve after the death of Arafat. The US Secretary of State, Russian, UK and Spanish Foreign Ministers and EU High Representative for Foreign and Security Policies also visited Palestine and Israel one after another during his visit.
Wang Shijie said that his visit to Palestine and Israel was to express once again condolences on the death of President Arafat to the Palestinian people and to show China's support for their just cause. At the same time, China reiterated to both Palestine and Israel that it will continue supporting the peace process of the Middle East and wishes the two sides to resume peace talks at the earliest date possible so as to reach reconciliation on the basis of relevant UN resolutions and realize peaceful co-existence of an independent state of Palestine and the state of Israel as early as possible. During his visit, both Palestine and Israel expressed their appreciations for China's efforts to help realize peace in the Middle East and both sides hoped to see a greater role played by China in the peace process of the Middle East. In Palestine, he met with the Chairman of the Executive Committee of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) Mahmoud Abbas, Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei, Acting President of Palestinian National Authority and Chairman of the Legislative Council Rawhi Fattuh as well as Palestinian Foreign Minister Nabil Shaath. In Israel, he met with Israeli Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs Silvan Shalom as well as officials from the Foreign Ministry and other departments. The two main topics for his meeting with officials from Palestine and Israel are: 1) bilateral relations; and 2) the peace process of the Middle East. When talking about bilateral relations, Palestine thanked China for its consistent support to Palestine and Israel appreciated the role played by China in the peace process of the Middle East. Both sides expressed their strong will to develop relations with China and noted in particular that they hope top Chinese leadership can visit Palestine and Israel.
Wang Shijie also shared a few impressions of his during the Middle East tour. He said, the first impression is that after the death of President Arafat the new Palestinian leadership is accomplishing a smooth power transition. Palestinian leaders told me that the power transition in Palestine is conducted in a democratic manner and under collective leadership. The main party within the Palestinian National Authority, Fatah, and organizations under the PLO like Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Popular Front and National Front have held a number of meetings to discuss how to face the post-Arafat situation.
All organizations indicated that the internal solidarity of Palestine should be strengthened after the death of Arafat and agreed that they would carry on the will of President Arafat to create an independent state of Palestine on the Palestinian territory at an early date, saying that they would like to continue promoting the peace process of the Middle East and conduct peace talks with Israel on the basis of relevant UN resolutions. I am relieved to see the smooth power transition in Palestine and the mature leadership demonstrated by the Palestinian leaders.
The second impression is that what Israel did when Arafat was seriously ill and around his death was wise. The Israeli side promised that Arafat might return to Ramallah before he was sent to France for treatment from Ramallah. After Arafat passed away, Israel has offered some facilitation for his funeral in Ramallah. During my visit, Israeli Foreign Minister Shalom indicated that Israel would take measures to ensure the smooth staging of the election on January 9 next year in Palestine. Israel has agreed that Palestinian voters in East Jerusalem can take part in the election. Meanwhile, Israel will take measures to ensure the freedom and participation of Palestinian people in the election in Palestine-controlled area. The Israeli side also noted that they would like to meet with Palestinian leaders to discuss the peace process in the Middle East. In a word, both sides expressed their will to resume peace talks. As far as I know, relevant departments of the two sides have started contacting each other.
The third impression is that the international community is making greater efforts to promote the peace process of the Middle East. After he was re-elected, US President George W. Bush announced that the objective of creating a Palestinian state would be realized in his second term. In addition to the special envoys of the "four parties" on the Middle East issue, leaders and foreign ministers of related countries have all visited Palestine and Israel to promote peace talks. From an overall perspective, the Middle East is witnessing a relaxing atmosphere and a sign of resuming peace talks. However, whether the peace talks can be successfully resumed and whether the talks can produce positive results depend on the further efforts of the two sides and the whole international community. Palestine and Israel have different terms and demands and the two sides need to compromise on a number of issues, which is quite a challenge. There are mainly three questions. First, the issue of land. That is, how much land will Israel return to Palestine? Second, the return of the refugees. Third, the demand by Palestine of making East Jerusalem the capital of the future Palestinian state. All these issues are tough and sensitive. I reiterated to both sides during my visit that China wishes to see them resume peace talks and reach an agreement as early as possible and hopes they can take actions immediately, stop mutual military attacks and improve the humanitarian situation in Palestine so as to create an atmosphere for the talks and establish mutual trust. The reason I talked about the humanitarian situation in Palestine is that I found the Palestinian people are leading a poor life in harsh conditions. When holding talks with relevant officials in Israel, I called on them to take immediate measures to improve the living conditions of the Palestinian people because without the improvement of their lives, it would be impossible to have a stable situation and a good atmosphere for negotiations. This point of view was hailed by Israeli officials. I also mentioned in the talks that China believes when solving issues about land, refugees and East Jerusalem, the two sides need to start from easy questions and both need to make concessions so as to accomplish the negotiations gradually. But I also told my Israeli friends that there is little room from Palestine to make concessions. It is Israel that is controlling the dominating power. Therefore, it needs to take more measures.
Wang Shijie stressed, through this visit, I find hopes for the resumption of peace talks between Palestine and Israel. Nevertheless, the issues to be negotiated are very sensitive and will be influenced by various factors. The talks will be tough.
When answering the question whether there is any change in China's stance on the promotion of peace process in the Middle East, Wang Shijie said China still holds that the Middle East issue should be resolved peacefully on the basis of relevant UN resolutions and the principle of "land for peace". China supports all international efforts conducive to pushing forward the peace process of the Middle East, including the "roadmap" for peace in the Middle East proposed by the "four parties". China believes to address the question between Palestine and Israel, the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people, including the right to establish an independent Palestinian state, must be resumed. At the same time, Israel's concerns over security should be understood and supported.
Regarding the prospect of creating an independent Palestinian state, Wang Shijie noted an independent Palestinian state would surely be established at last. It has become the consensus of the international community to establish a Palestinian state, which was reflected in both UN Resolution 181 in 1947 and the current "roadmap" for peace in the Middle East. As for what kind of Palestinian state will be set up, Palestine and Israel have different understandings, which shall be resolved through negotiations and is also related to how the international community will intervene. China hopes to see a fair solution to this problem.
When talking about China's stance on the upcoming election in Palestine, Wang Shijie said China hopes the election can be held as scheduled and new leaders can be elected smoothly.
Around 20 foreign correspondents in Beijing and news officers from foreign embassies in China attended the briefing, which was hosted by the IPC Director He Ying.