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Praying for restoring peace through talks around globe this year

By Chen Weihua | China Daily | Updated: 2024-01-05 07:18
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A woman passes by a symbolic Christmas tree made from used artillery shells and parts of rockets who were transported to the Ukrainian capital from the front line in central Kyiv, Ukraine December 19, 2023. [Photo/Agencies]

A New Year wish for world peace is definitely not a cliché in 2024, especially because the conflicts between Russia and Ukraine, and Israel and Palestine are not only continuing but could also escalate into wider hostilities.

A few months after the Russia-Ukraine conflict broke out on Feb 24, 2022, many, including some US and European politicians, said it would end by the end of that year. Now we know that the negotiations between Russia and Ukraine in Belarus and Turkiye in the spring of 2022 were actually going well until they were abruptly halted because of the not so covert intervention of the US.

However, The Washington Post reported in November 2023 that the Joe Biden administration is privately encouraging Ukraine's leaders to signal an openness to negotiate with Russia and change their stance of not engaging in peace talks with Moscow unless Russian President Vladimir Putin is ousted from power.

The public fatigue both in the US and the European Union over the conflict is obvious. The Republicans in Congress have been blocking funding for Ukraine, while in the EU, Hungary blocked a €50 billion ($54 billion) funding for Ukraine. And Slovakia's new Prime Minister Robert Fico halted military aid to Ukraine in November.

While the EU adopted its 12th sanction package against Russia in December, many, including some in Brussels, say the sanctions are not working, partly because they are not mandated by the United Nations. The fighting over in the last 22-plus months has caused huge suffering to the people and the economy, especially Ukraine's and, if allowed to escalate, could turn into a wider, much more devastating conflict between two nuclear powers-Russia and NATO.

But all these could probably have been prevented had the US and NATO, in their reply to Russia in January 2022, not ignored Russia's concern about NATO's eastward expansion, or had the US not prevented Ukraine from negotiating with Russia in the spring of 2022.

What has become abundantly clear in the past 22 months is that the battlefield is not the solution to the Russia-Ukraine disputes. The solution lies in diplomacy and negotiations, which have been seriously lacking. Sadly, in Europe today, negotiations and diplomacy with Russia seem politically incorrect for many.

Just like it's politically incorrect to discuss the Nord Stream pipeline explosion, an attack on Germany's and the EU's critical infrastructure.

Like any negotiation, the talks on the conflict should start with a cease-fire between Russia and Ukraine, one long urged by China and many other countries but rejected by the US and some of its NATO allies.

I hope EU leaders will show wisdom and courage to help bring an end to the conflict as soon as possible and restore lasting peace through negotiations.

On the other hand, Europe is indeed in a bad situation. The Israel-Palestine conflict is not far either, right on the other side of the Mediterranean Sea.

The Israel-Palestine conflict, which started on Oct 7 with Hamas attacking Israel, has triggered Israel's disproportionate military reaction which has claimed more than 22,000 lives, the majority of them children and women.

According to the Wall Street Journal, by mid-December, Israel had dropped about 29,000 bombs on the Gaza Strip, destroying or damaging nearly 70 percent of Palestinian homes.

What's worse, the humanitarian crisis in Gaza is so catastrophic that a United Nations report says half of the 2.2 million people in Gaza are at risk of starvation, with 90 percent regularly going without food.

The US is among the very few countries which oppose UN resolutions calling for a permanent cease-fire in Gaza. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken's decision last week to again bypass the US Congress to approve arms sales to Israel has further exposed Washington's bias, proving it is responsible for the sufferings of the people in Gaza.

Israel's alleged involvement in the assassination of Hamas deputy chief Saleh Arouri in a drone attack in Beirut, Lebanon, on Tuesday, as confirmed by US officials, has made matters worse, with Lebanese caretaker prime minister Najib Mikati condemning the attack and calling it "a new Israeli crime aimed at inevitably dragging Lebanon into a new phase of confrontation".

It is important to remind that Lebanon is a sovereign nation and the alleged Israeli attack is a violation of the UN Charter and Lebanon's sovereignty.

In the Red Sea, the Houthi forces based in Yemen, which supports the cause of Palestine, have started attacking freight ships heading to Israel, saying they would launch more such attacks until people in Gaza "receive the food and medicine "needed. In response, the Biden administration, despite saying it did not want a direct military conflict with the Houthis, fired shots at the Houthis on Sunday, killing all the crew on three Houthi boats. The situation worsened on Wednesday when two explosions killed about 100 people and injured more than 200 in the Iranian city of Kerman during the commemoration ceremony of late General Qassem Soleimani, who was killed by US forces four years ago.

It has been another major provocation despite the fact that no one has claimed responsibility so far.

Given all the latest developments, a regional conflict in the Middle East looks much more likely now than just a few weeks ago.

The continuing Russia-Ukraine and Israel-Palestine conflicts, along with those in several African countries, mean peace should be the top priority as the world enters 2024. And all countries should push for dialogue and diplomacy to prevent more bloodshed.


Chen Weihua

The author is chief of China Daily EU Bureau based in Brussels.

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