Tuesday, Sep 09, 2003
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By Amit Baruah
THE `WARRIOR' STATE of Israel is not a model for India in its battle against terrorism. Nor can the Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, be hailed as the "strong" leader who has tackled "terror" and provides peace and security to his people. The visit by Mr. Sharon denotes how far Indian foreign policy has travelled since New Delhi began "balancing" the rights of the Palestinians to free themselves from Israeli occupation and getting Tel Aviv's help to counter terrorism and secure defence technologies.
The Palestinian Foreign Minister, Nabil Sha'ath, said at a press conference recently that India's support to the Palestinian cause was unwavering. But, the silence from the Ministry of External Affairs was telling. Should a visiting Minister be speaking on behalf of his host Government? Why has the External Affairs Ministry been silent on the issue? And if the line has changed, then why does the Government not have the political courage to say it up front?
The bit that was given out related to India's continued commitment to the old United Nations resolutions on the Palestinian issue. This, too, came out after repeated questions. There appeared to be no real will behind any of these statements. By inclination, this Government has sold itself to the Israeli cause. But, on account of political and "traditional" pressures, it cannot yet bid good-bye to the Palestinians. So, Dr. Sha'ath has to be invited before Mr. Sharon comes. The Palestinians also received a "gift" of 12 Tata Safari vehicles from New Delhi.
The Palestinian cause is about righting a wrong, or a series of wrongs. They are a people whose territory has been taken over by occupiers, whose capital was taken over by force. If some among them have turned suicide bombers, can we forget the fact that 10-year-old boys can still be seen throwing stones at those huge, menacing tanks that straddle Palestinian territories?
What kind of a state uses tanks against boys? In its rush to identify itself with the Israelis as "victims" of terrorism, the Government of India has forgotten several key lessons. One, India has a good case in Jammu and Kashmir; it is Pakistan which has been plotting and planning to sever Kashmir from the rest of India. In the case of the people of Palestine, they simply want their land back. In the case of Kashmir, another state wants to hit back at India for the perceived humiliation of 1971 even while carrying the baggage of Partition.
By identifying with Israel as a victim of terrorism, India may damage its own cause. Many senior police personnel from India have been visiting Israel. They have, perhaps, been sent to imbibe the mindset which the Israelis think is necessary to counter terror.
The Arab world is closely watching India and its new positions. Several New Delhi-based West Asian diplomats see India's emerging "axis of anger" with Israel and the United States as evidence of a basic paradigm shift in foreign policy.
As far as defence technologies are concerned, sure, India can buy what it wants from Israel. The Israelis are not supplying the Phalcon radar system free or at a discount. India will pay in hard currency for the radar system. It is, after all, a buyer-seller relationship. The point here is that you can deal with Israel without abandoning India's traditional support to the Palestinian people and cause.
In an interview to this newspaper, Dr. Nabil Sha'ath gave the Government of India two important lessons in diplomacy. First, the route from New Delhi to Washington is not via Tel Aviv. Secondly, Israel is not the only "victim" of terrorism with which India can identify. New Delhi could try Palestine, Morocco or even Indonesia.
As a "friend" of Israel, India must ask Mr. Sharon to end the occupation and agree to the creation of a real, sovereign Palestinian state. Nothing else will be able to deal with the roots of what strategic thinkers call instability in West Asia. By not settling with a secular Palestinian leadership, Israel has strengthened groups such as Hamas or Islamic Jihad. Today, it is paying for its intransigence. The Palestinians are ready for an American road map, but the Israelis have put forward a series of conditions. The intransigence continues.
Way back in 1967, Isaac Deutscher said in an interview (quoted in Tariq Ali's The Clash of Fundamentalisms): "The Germans have summed up their own experience in the bitter phrase: `You can rush victoriously into your grave'. This is what the Israelis have been doing."
"In the conquered territories and in Israel there are now nearly a million and five hundred thousand Arabs, well over 40 per cent of the total population. Will the Israelis expel this mass of Arabs in order to hold `securely' the conquered lands? This would create a new refugee problem, more dangerous and larger than the old one...Yes, this victory is worse for Israel than a defeat. Far from giving Israel a higher degree of security, it has rendered it much more insecure."
Deutscher's message is as valid today as it was in 1967. Security flows from peace; not from tanks and Apache helicopters. And peace can only come from a political settlement.
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