China's Xi tells Israel that peaceful Middle East good for all

BEIJING (Reuters) - Chinese President Xi Jinping told visiting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday that peaceful coexistence with the Palestinians would be good for both sides.

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Xi, whose country has traditionally played little role in Middle East conflicts or diplomacy despite its reliance on the region for oil, said a peaceful and stable Middle East was in everyone’s interests.

He said that China had increasingly close relations with countries in the region, according to a statement from China’s Foreign Ministry about his meeting with Netanyahu.

It has, for example, tried to help in efforts to end Syria’s civil war. Beijing-based diplomats say it portrays itself as an honest broker without the historical baggage the Americans and Europeans have in the region.

“A peaceful, stable, developing Middle East accords with the common interests of all, including China and Israel,” the statement paraphrased Xi as saying.

“China appreciates Israel’s continuing to take the ‘two state proposal’ as the basis for handling the Israel-Palestine issue,” he added.

Peaceful coexistence between Israel and Palestine would be good for both parties and the region and is what the international community favors, Xi said.

Chinese envoys occasionally visit Israel and the Palestinian Territories, but Chinese efforts to mediate or play a role in that long-standing dispute have never amounted to much.

China also has traditionally had a good relationship with the Palestinians.

An Israeli government statement quoted Netanyahu as telling Xi that Israel admires China’s capabilities, its position on the world stage and in history.

“We have always believed, as we discussed on my previous visit, that Israel can be a partner, a junior partner, but a perfect partner for China in the development of a variety of technologies that change the way we live, how long we live, how healthy we live, the water we drink, the food we eat, the milk that we drink – in every area,” he said.

Netanyahu’s trip comes just days after China hosted Saudi Arabia’s King Salman and signed deals worth as much as $65 billion with Riyadh.

The Middle East, however, is fraught with risk for China, a country that has little experience navigating the religious and political tensions that frequently rack the region.

China also has close ties with Iran, whose nuclear program has seriously alarmed Israel.

Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Additional reporting by Luke Baker in Jerusalem; Editing by Tom Heneghan