New Delhi: India, a “friend” to both Israel and Palestine, can play a crucial role amid the ongoing violence and call for an “immediate ceasefire” between the two countries, Palestinian Ambassador Adnan M.J. Abu Alhaija has said.
In an interview to ThePrint, the ambassador also said the violence between Palestine and Israel has already turned into a full-fledged war.
“If this is not war, then I do not know what is a war. Israelis are trying to kill as much as they could, destroying buildings as much as they could, using the most modern American weapon …It is a war, it is a very bad war,” he added.
It is now time for India to play a “positive role” and call for an immediate ceasefire, he said.
“India knows very well what is the problem in the Middle East since Mahatma Gandhi. India should call for an immediate ceasefire and not just de-escalation. I hope they will play this role because they are friends of both countries. They could play a very positive role,” he added, lauding New Delhi’s stance on the tensions, especially at the United Nations (UN).
Earlier this week, addressing the first public United Nations Security Council meeting on the tensions, India’s Ambassador to the UN in New York T.S. Tirumurti reiterated “India’s strong support to the just Palestinian cause and its unwavering commitment to the two-state solution” even as he urged both parties to show “extreme restraint” and sought “immediate de-escalation”.
Tensions between Israel and Palestine date back to the first half of the 20th century, when British rulers left the region and a Jewish state was carved out of Palestine, a move that left thousands of Arabs homeless.
Israel and Palestine are currently locked in the worst violence the countries have seen in years. It started with Israel imposing restrictions on gatherings in Jerusalem during the Islamic holy month of Ramzan. The restrictions were subsequently eased but tensions were further stoked by the planned eviction of dozens of Palestinian families from the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood in east Jerusalem.
Clashes between Israeli police and Palestinian protesters became a daily affair before the tensions took a more vicious form and led to the Hamas, a Palestinian militant organisation that governs the Gaza Strip, launching rockets at Israel, and the latter hitting back.
Many Palestinians have died in the violence. Fatalities on the Israeli side have been limited by the country’s ‘Iron Dome’ air defence system.
‘Have taken up matter with Indian government’
Alhaija said Palestine has urged India to call for International Conference on Peace in the Middle East that was originally proposed by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas under a UN-led initiative
“The State of Palestine has been recognised by 139 countries and with Jerusalem as capital. This is 22 per cent of historical Palestine. We have agreed to find a resolution to the problem and have agreed to live with the Israelis side by side. Hope India will support that,” the envoy said.
Palestine, he added, has taken up the matter with the Narendra Modi government and expects “highest-level” intervention in this matter.
“We have discussed it but not really got answers from India on that… First, the MEA (Ministry of External Affairs) should take it up and then the Prime Minister. We have not seen that and we hope to see it soon,” he said.
According to the Palestinian envoy, if a solution is not found immediately, then “there will be no security” in the Middle East.
“If the Israelis think that Palestinians will live under occupation forever, I think they are living in a dream, no matter who supports them, the US or anyone… We are fighting for the British mandate (on Palestine) since 1921 and we are now in 2021. It’s been one century… So I think we deserve independence and we deserve that our children live peacefully not killed every day and to live a normal life,” he said.
After the Ottoman Empire was defeated in World War 1, the erstwhile League of Nations finalised the British mandate over Iraq and Palestine, and the French mandate over Syria and Lebanon. Transjordan was subsequently separated from the Palestine mandate, which led to the former becoming an autonomous kingdom.
‘Arab world not divided’
The US, Alhaija said, has never “been fair” and has “always supported Israel”.
During a phone call between US President Joe Biden and Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu earlier this month, the former supported Israel’s “right to defend itself” against indiscriminate rocket attacks and encouraged him to make every effort to ensure the protection of innocent civilians.
“The US has never been fair. They have always supported Israel, defending Israel in everything, make Israel their most strong country … Gives them the most modern weapon … Even when the UN and EU take (a stand) against Israel, the US pressurises them,” he added.
He also said that the US has refused any proper discussion on the matter at the UN Security Council whenever the multilateral body has called for a ceasefire.
“So, we are not expecting positive attitude from the US… Do we have the right to self-defence or not? This has been the attitude of the Americans, doesn’t matter if it’s the Democrats or Republicans,” he added.
The ambassador also denied reports of a purported rift in the Arab world this time on condemning Israel, which has seen its relationship with many historical rivals in the region ease in recent months.
“Arab world is not divided on the Palestinian issue. There might be some difference between some countries… But there is a strong support from Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Morocco and others.”
‘Israel working hard to reverse facts’
Discussing the current spate of tensions, the ambassador said they began with the onset of Ramzan, when the Palestinians were “restricted” from entering the Al-Aqsa mosque in East Jerusalem, and subsequent actions by the Israeli police in Sheikh Jarrah.
“Israelis are working hard to reverse the facts. Tensions did not start on 10 May. Tensions started from the beginning of the month of Ramzan. When Mr Netanyahu failed to form the government, he sent his soldiers to the Al-Aqsa mosque… He wants to displace them to establish a new settlement in the old city of Jerusalem and Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood,” the envoy said.
“Israel is a terrorist state because they are occupying Palestine and refusing any kind of peace with the Palestinians. Since we signed the Oslo Agreement we were looking to have peace with them. But they have destroyed the two-state solution, they don’t want Palestine to be independent,” Alhaija added.
Signed in 1993, the Oslo Accords were an agreement between the Government of Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO). It chalked out a strategy for a two-state solution to resolve the long-standing conflict between Israel and Palestine. Under this agreement, Palestine could claim 22 per cent of its historical territory, with the remaining 78 per cent going to Israel.
“We are not asking much … We are asking for 22 per cent of historical rights, including East Jerusalem as the capital of the State of Palestine… But this (Israeli) government wants ethnic cleansing of East Jerusalem,” the ambassador said.
Alhaija denied the Hamas is a terrorist organisation. “Hamas is the main part of the Palestinian people. Any people under occupation have the right by the international laws to defend himself and use all means against the occupier to get their liberation.”
He added that tensions between both countries can permanently end if Israelis end their “occupation”.
At least 60 youngsters have been killed in Gaza and another 444 injured in less than 10 days of conflict with Israel, the head of the UN Children’s Fund has said, calling for an immediate ceasefire and aid access to “stave off disaster”.
(Edited by Sunanda Ranjan)