The Hindu Exclusive Interview

Palestine ‘shocked’ at Indian abstention

Palestinian Ambassador to India Adnan Abu Alhaija.

Palestinian Ambassador to India Adnan Abu Alhaija.   | Photo Credit: V. Sudershan

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Palestinian Ambassador Adnan Abu Alhaija says India’s decision has been “affected” by its “burgeoning military relationship with Israel”.

Hitting out at India’s decision to abstain from the U.N. Human Rights Council vote because of “technical reasons,” Palestine has said the abstention “marks a departure” from Delhi’s “traditional position.”

In an exclusive interview to The Hindu, the Palestinian Ambassador to India, Adnan Abu Alhaija, said India’s decision has been “affected” by its “burgeoning military relationship with Israel.”

“We were shocked. The Palestinian people and leaders were very happy with the U.N. resolution, but the voting of India has broken our happiness,” Ambassador Alhaija said.

The remarks, the first on the subject from Palestine, are likely to mean that India’s Secretary (East) Anil Wadhwa, who left on Monday for a week-long visit to Israel and Palestine, will face some tough questions from the Palestinian government.

On Friday, >India refused to vote against Israel in a resolution related to strikes in Gaza over a period of two months in 2014 that left more than 2,200 dead, including 1,462 Palestinian civilians. The vote was on a report, submitted during the UNHRC’s summer session in Geneva a year later, that blamed Israel for what it called “extensive use of weapons with a wide kill and injury radius.”

It had also criticised the Hamas militant group for the violence against Israeli citizens, six of whom were killed.

The resolution, which said Israel should bring those responsible for human rights violations to justice, also called on Israel and Hamas to “cooperate fully with International Criminal Court (ICC).”

It was this reference to the ICC that India said it could not support, as it is not a signatory to the Rome Statute that created the ICC, and had similarly abstained from resolutions against Syria and North Korea.

‘India had indicated support’

In its statement, the Ministry of External Affairs denied emphatically that there was any “change in India’s long-standing position on support to the Palestinian cause”, while explaining India’s decision to abstain from voting at the U.N. Human Rights Council resolution on Israel’s attacks on Gaza in 2014.

In his exclusive interview to The Hindu, the Palestinian Ambassador to India termed India’s explanation of vote (EOV) “unconvincing”, pointing out that other non-signatories to the ICC like Russia and China had supported the resolution.

India was among five countries which abstained, while 41 countries voted in favour of the resolution, and the United States remained the only country to vote against it.

“In a scenario where the European Union members, who were once considered steadfast supporters of Israel, voted against it, India’s abstention stands out as a sore thumb and will send a confusing signal,” Mr. Alhaija said, adding that the vote would “confuse” supporters of India’s UN Security Council membership bid, and also constitute a “clean-break from the ethos of non-alignment.”

He also contended that India had indicated support for the resolution earlier, when he had met with senior officials to convey a written request for support from Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki.

Modi-Netanyahu ties

Israeli newspapers have credited the Indian position to Israeli diplomacy led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who >called up Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the eve of the vote.

MEA officials did not comment on the sharp comments by the Palestinian Ambassador, but denied that India had given “any assurances” on how it would vote to either the Israeli or the Palestinian interlocutors.

According to one source, the Palestine government was told about the Indian reservations on the ICC “in Geneva”.

Mr. Alhaija said despite the vote, Palestine looked forward to Mr. Modi’s visit to the region, sometime “at the end of this year and beginning of 2016”.

“We will still like to believe that this incident is merely an aberration and doesn’t reflect India’s diplomatic history and its desire to help the oppressed people of the world. We will still like to believe that this is a one-off incident and not a trend,” he said.

Full text of the interview with Palestinian Ambassador to India Adnan Abu Alhaija:

India has defended it decision to abstain on a vote at the UNHRC for a resolution criticising Israel and Hamas for violence in 2014, on a technical reason, namely that the resolution referred to the ICC. While Israel has welcomed the vote, the Palestine government, in its first reaction on the issue says it is shocked, and finds India’s explanation “unconvincing”. Palestinian Ambassador to India Adnan Abu Alhaija spoke to The Hindu’s Diplomatic Affairs Editor Suhasini Haidar for this exclusive interview.

What was your reaction to India’s decision to abstain from the UNHRC resolution criticising Israel?

We were shocked. The Palestinian people and the leaders, we were very happy with the UN resolution, but the voting of India has broken our happiness. India is a very special country for us, and its abstention from voting can be termed as a departure from India’s traditional position on Palestine that has remained unwavering since the last seven decades. The India-Palestine relationship is built on mutual trust, respect and common cause against colonialism. And it has remained steadfast irrespective of what political disposition is in power.

Whenever we have expressed concern over the burgeoning military relationship with Israel, India has assured us that its position on Palestine would not be affected by this. However the incident at the UNHRC has shown that this factor has indeed affected the judgement. Also, India has shown a clean break from the ethos of non-alignment that has guided India’s foreign policy till now.

The Hindu has reported on how PM Netanyahu had telephoned PM Modi a day before the vote to pitch Israel’s cause. Did the Palestine government also get in touch with the Indian government about the UNHRC vote?

I read about the phone call in The Hindu and also in Israeli newspapers. We had delivered a letter from the Palestinian Foreign Minister Mr. Riyad Al Maliki to Her Excellency External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and I didn’t meet her directly but met officials in the Foreign ministry, and they told me that we will support the Palestine resolution even before the voting.

They may have said that, but the MEA also says that when they saw the resolution had references to the International Criminal Court (ICC), that India is not a signatory to, they decided to abstain. That doesn’t convince you…

It is unconvincing, for more than one reason. I would like to add that many members of the UNHRC who are non-signatories to the Rome Statute that set up the ICC. Like Russia, China, many of the Arab and African countries. In a scenario where European union members who were once considered steadfast supporters of Israel, voted against it; India’s abstention stands out as a sore thumb, and will send a confusing signal. There is a positive momentum on India’s claim over the expansion of the UNSC and inclusion of more permanent members. This posture on Palestine will send a confusing signal to other UN members as to what India’s role would be if and when it becomes a permanent member.

But is that unfair? In India, the question often asked is that while Palestine expects all this explicit support from India at the UN, India doesn’t get support from Palestine at the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation when it passes resolutions against India. How do you answer that?

Well you know that India is not itself a member of the OIC and never desired to be a member of it. In the OIC decisions are taken collectively, there is no resolution where you can make individual statements and vote separately. It is also well known that while the OIC was set up to espouse the Palestinian cause, the State of Palestine is the weakest state in it. During President Arafat’s time, he used to call Indira Gandhi his sister, and laid the issues before her. At the OIC, especially on the problems between India and Pakistan, Palestine has always supported any peaceful resolution of their problems. We have not taken sides against India. We can’t answer however for the 54 members of OIC.

PM Modi is expected to visit Palestine along with Israel and perhaps other countries. What is likely to be discussed during the visit, and is there any confirmation on when it is likely to be?

We might expect it at the end of this year or the beginning of 2016, but there is no confirmation yet, and neither us nor the Israelis are yet aware. We are in the middle of the political discussions on what will be the agenda of the visit. The MEA’s secretary (East) Anil Wadhwa is leaving for Palestine and Israel today ahead of Ms. Swaraj and PM Modi’s visit. We hope to sign several agreements as well, in the field of Agriculture, Education, Security issues. And we hope to move on from this (vote at the UNHRC). We will still like to believe that this incident is merely an aberration and doesn’t reflect India’s diplomatic history and its desire to help the oppressed people of the world. We will still like to believe that this was a one-off incident and not a trend.

There has been criticism that despite PM Modi visiting so many continents in the past year, he made no visit to West Asia. Recently he invited ambassadors of some countries in the region, and he is planning his visit to Palestine later this year… is the criticism valid?

We hope that this is a missed or late start, but that he will include the whole Arab world in upcoming visits. This is a relationship not just based on commerce and profits, and goes beyond the nearly $200 billion traded and 7-8 million Indians working there. Those are measures of a relationship that is built on history and values and ethics. And we hope that we will move on from this moment, and there will not be any major shift in our relationship.

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Printable version | Nov 22, 2019 2:00:47 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/interview/suhasini-haider-exclusive-interview-with-palestinian-ambassador-to-india-adnan-abu-alhaija/article7392435.ece

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