China. „Panda diplomacy”.

This week, China announced that as long as the facility meets the standards needed for the animals, it would soon be loaning two panda bears to a zoo in Haifa.

Before handing over any bears, the Chinese want to make sure the Haifa zoo has the right conditions; can provide the right food – pandas almost exclusively a certain kind of bamboo, though they will not turn up their noses at the occasional meatball, egg or vegetable. And yes, a delegation from the Haifa zoo has to first visit China to observe the black and white beauties in their mountainous home environment.

Not that there are many left. How many pandas remain in the wild is not certain, but recent estimates have been well under 5,000 and they are considered extremely endangered. Worst of all, they seem remarkably reluctant to breed for a species that – like most – depend on sex to survive. At least Haifa is suitable in being situated on the slopes of Mount Carmel, at an elevation of about 550 meters. The endemic panda habitat in Chengdu is 350m to 5600m. It’s rather hotter in Israel, though.

China’s practice of giving the bears to its allies and partners has a long history: Some date it to the 7th-century Tang Dynasty, though it was revived by Mao Zedong in the 20th century and became well known in the United States in 1972 when President Richard Nixon received two pandas after a landmark visit to China.

China may be friends with Israel, but it also enjoys good relations with many Arab nations. It remains tied to the Palestinian cause and recognized Hamas as the leader of the Gaza Strip after the group won Palestinian elections in 2006, despite Israel and the United States designating Hamas a terrorist organization (China does not classify Lebanon’s Hezbollah as a terrorist organization, either). It remains critical of Israeli settlements built in the West Bank and East Jerusalem and condemned the Israeli response to an international flotilla carrying aid and activists to Gaza in 2010.

Perhaps even tougher may be Beijing’s friendly relationship with Iran and its support for Tehran at the United Nations. That support has been tempered in the past few years (after significant lobbying from Israel), but it remains an awkward issue.

Adam Taylor, The Washington Post

„As the People’s Republic discovers the Jews, it should remember an old Yiddish proverb,” Oren Kessler, a former editor at the Jerusalem Post who is now deputy director of research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, wrote in 2012. „You can’t dance at two weddings at once.”

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