Sunday, Sep 14, 2003
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By Amit Baruah
The remarks came a day after the Ministry spokesman, in response to a pointed query, said the Government "disapproved" of Israel's plans to "remove" Mr. Arafat from his compound in Ramallah. "We believe that any restrictions on his movements and his forcible removal from Palestinian territory would have serious negative consequences and strongly urge that no such moves be contemplated," it added.
The statement, which came three days after the departure of the Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, from New Delhi, did not refer to the Government of Israel directly. It merely spoke in general terms.
West Asia analysts have little doubt that India's emphasis on the Palestinians and their cause has been diluted as contact with the Israelis deepens at different levels - the Sharon visit being a case in point.
In the not-so-distant past, however, India has had no hesitation in spelling out its stand on the Palestinian-Israeli question. Addressing the 57th session of the United Nations General Assembly, India's Deputy Permanent Representative, A. Gopinathan, said: "India reaffirms its solidarity with the people of Palestine, who have striven valiantly over the past decades for the restoration of their legitimate rights."
"We support the inalienable and legitimate right of the Palestinian people to a homeland as well as the right of all States of the region, including Israel and Palestine, to exist peacefully within secure and recognised borders. We recall our earlier statements where we had emphasised that President Arafat, who enjoys wide support and respect, is the symbol of Palestinian nationhood," he said.
The sentiments conveyed by Mr. Gopinathan were direct and categorical as opposed to the ambiguity India is currently displaying towards the Palestinian cause.
At least at the level of words, Indian support was categorical not so long ago.
"The continued military operations by Israel or acts of retaliatory violence serve no purpose except causing loss of life, mostly of innocent civilians, including women and children, and making the divide between the peoples of Palestine and Israel even sharper. Immediate cessation of military operations and withdrawal by Israel and ceasefire are, therefore, the most urgent steps," he said.
The steps prescribed by Mr. Gopinathan are important: an end to military operations by the Israelis, a withdrawal of Israeli troops and, then, a "ceasefire". While joint statements can be expected to be bland at times, at no stage in the immediate run-up to Mr. Sharon's visit did New Delhi list these "do's" for Israel, the analysts pointed out.
"We urge the Government of Israel to do all that is possible to alleviate the social and economic plight of the Palestinian population by lifting closures and blockades, allowing unhindered access to humanitarian supplies and by releasing the balance finances due to the Palestinian Authority," Mr. Gopinathan added.
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