India’s Helping Hand and Solidarity Towards Palestine

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Last year, Palestine rejected the US-Bahrain led Peace to Prosperity economic workshop on the ground that it says nothing about ending Israeli occupation.

Israel-Palestine Conflict

The seeds of the conflict were laid in 1917 when the then British Foreign Secretary Arthur James Balfour expressed official support of Britain for a Jewish "national home" in Palestine under the Balfour Declaration. The lack of concern for the "rights of existing non-Jewish communities" i.e. the Arabs led to prolonged violence.

Unable to contain Arab and Jewish violence, Britain withdrew its forces from Palestine in 1948, leaving responsibility for resolving the competing claims to the newly created United Nations. The UN presented a partition plan to create independent Jewish and Arab states in Palestine. Most Jews in Palestine accepted the partition, but most Arabs did not.

In 1948, the Jewish declaration of Israel's independence prompted surrounding Arab states to attack. At the end of the war, Israel controlled about 50 percent more territory than originally envisioned UN partition plan. Jordan controlled the West Bank and Jerusalem's holy sites, and Egypt controlled the Gaza Strip.

1964: Founding of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO)

1967: In Six-day Arab- Israeli war, Israeli forces seize the Golan Heights from Syria, the West Bank & East Jerusalem from Jordan and Sinai Peninsula & Gaza strip from Egypt.

The United Nations grants the PLO observer status in 1975 and recognizes Palestinians' right to self-determination.

Camp David Accords (1978): "Framework for Peace in the Middle East" brokered by U.S. set the stage for peace talks between Israel and its neighbors and a resolution to the "Palestinian problem". This however remained unfulfilled.

1981: Israel effectively annexes the Golan but this is not recognized by the United States or the international community.

1987: Founding of Hamas, a violent offshoot of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood seeking "to raise the banner of Allah over every inch of Palestine" through violent jihad.

1987: Tensions in the occupied territories of West Bank and Gaza reached boiling point resulting in the First Intifada (Palestinian Uprising). It grew into a small war between Palestinian militants and the Israeli army.

1988: Jordan cedes to the PLO all the country's territorial claims in the West Bank and Eastern Jerusalem.

1993: Under the Oslo Accords Israel and the PLO agree to officially recognize each other and renounce the use of violence. The Oslo Accords also established the Palestinian Authority, which received limited autonomy in the Gaza Strip and parts of the West Bank.

2005: Israel begins a unilateral withdrawal of Jews from settlements in Gaza. However, Israel kept tight control over all border crossings (blockade).

2006: Hamas scores a victory in Palestinian Authority elections. The vote leaves the Palestinian house divided between Fatah movement, represented by President Mahmoud Abbas, and Hamas, which will control the cabinet and parliament. Efforts at cohabitation fail almost immediately.

2007: Palestinian Movement Splits after few months of formation of a joint Fatah-Hamas government. Hamas militants drive Fatah from Gaza. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas appoints a new government in Ramallah (West Bank), which is quickly recognized by the United States and European Union. Gaza remains under Hamas control.

2012: UN upgrades Palestinian representation to that of "non-member observer state".

2014: Israel responds to the kidnapping and murder of three Jewish teenagers in the West Bank by arresting numerous Hamas members. Militants respond by firing rockets from Gaza. Clashes end in uneasy Egyptian-brokered ceasefire.

2014: Fatah and Hamas form a unity government, though distrust remains between the two factions.

The Territorial Impact

West Bank: The West Bank is sandwiched between Israel and Jordan. One of its major cities is Ramallah, the de facto administrative capital of Palestine. Israel took control of it in the 1967 war and has over the years established settlements there.

Gaza: The Gaza Strip located between Israel and Egypt. Israel occupied the strip after 1967, but relinquished control of Gaza City and day-to-day administration in most of the territory during the Oslo peace process. In 2005, Israel unilaterally removed Jewish settlements from the territory, though it continues to control international access to it.

Golan Heights: The Golan Heights is a strategic plateau that Israel captured from Syria in the 1967 war. Israel effectively annexed the territory in 1981. Recently, the USA has officially recognized Jerusalem and Golan Heights a part of Israel.

Palestinian Authority: Created by the 1993 Olso Accords, it is the official governing body of the Palestinian people, led by President Mahmoud Abbas of the Fatah faction. Hobbled by corruption and by political infighting, the PA has failed to become the stable negotiating partner its creators had hoped.

Fatah: Founded by the late Yasir Arafat in the 1950s, Fatah is the largest Palestinian political faction. Unlike Hamas, Fatah is a secular movement, has nominally recognized Israel, and has actively participated in the peace process.

Hamas: Hamas is regarded as a terrorist organization by the U.S. government. In 2006, Hamas won the Palestinian Authority's legislative elections. It ejected Fatah from Gaza in 2007, splitting the Palestinian movement geographically, as well.

Two-State Solution

The “two state solution” is based on a UN resolution of 1947 which proposed two states - one would be a state where Zionist Jews constituted a majority, the other where the Palestinian Arabs would be a majority of the population. The idea was however rejected by the Arabs.

For decades, it has been held by the international community as the only realistic deal to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Why is the solution so difficult to achieve?

Borders: There is no consensus about precisely where to draw the line with Israel building settlements and constructing barriers in areas like the West Bank that creates a de facto border. This makes it difficult to establish that land as part of an independent Palestine, breaking it up into non-contiguous pieces.

Jerusalem: Both sides claim Jerusalem as their capital and consider it a centre of religious worship and cultural heritage making its division difficult.

In December 2017, Israel declared Jerusalem as its capital and the step found support from the USA, intensifying the situation in the region.

Refugees: Large numbers of Palestinians who fled their homes in what is now Israel, during the preceding wars as well as their descendants believe they deserve the right to return but Israel is against it.

Divided Political Leadership on Both sides: The Palestinian leadership is divided - two-state solution is supported by Palestinian nationalists in West Bank but the leadership in Gaza does not even recognize Israel. Further, while successive Israeli Prime Ministers - Ehud Barak, Ariel Sharon, Ehud Olmert and Benjamin Netanyahu- have all accepted the idea of a Palestinian state, they have differed in terms of what it should actually comprise.

Global Stand on Israel -Palestine Conflict

Nearly 83% of world countries have officially recognized Israel as a sovereign state and maintain diplomatic relations with it.

However, at the same time, many countries are sympathetic to Palestine.

What do both parties want?

Palestine wants Israeli to halt all expansionary activities and retreat to pre-1967 borders. It wants to establish a sovereign Palestine state in West Bank and Gaza with East Jerusalem as its capital.

Palestine wants Palestine refugees who lost their homes in 1948 be able to come back.

Israel wants it to be recognised as a Jewish state. It wants the Palestine refugees to return only to Palestine, not to Israel.

India – Palestine Relations

India’s solidarity with the Palestinian people and its attitude to the Palestinian question was given voice during our freedom struggle by Mahatma Gandhi. Since then, empathy with the Palestinian cause and friendship with the people of Palestine have become an integral part of India’s foreign policy. India was the first Non-Arab State to recognize PLO as sole and legitimate representative of the Palestinian people in 1974. India was one of the first countries to recognize the State of Palestine in 1988. In 1996, India opened its Representative Office to the Palestine Authority in Gaza, which later was shifted to Ramallah in 2003.

India has always played a proactive role in garnering support for the Palestinian cause in multilateral fora. India co-sponsored the draft resolution on “the right of Palestinians to self-determination” during the 53rd session of the UN General Assembly and voted in favour of it. India also voted in favour of UN General Assembly Resolution in October 2003 against construction of the separation wall by Israel and supported subsequent resolutions of the UNGA in this regard. India voted in favour of accepting Palestine as a full member of UNESCO. At the United Nations General Assembly on November 29, 2012 the status of Palestine was upgraded to a ‘non-member state’.

India co-sponsored this resolution and voted in favour of it. India supported the Bandung Declaration on Palestine at Asian African Commemorative Conference in April 2015. India supported installation of Palestinian flag at UN premises along with other observer states, like the flags of member states, in September 2015.

Bilateral Visits

There have been regular bilateral visits between India and Palestine. Late President Yasser Arafat visited India several times. President Mahmoud Abbas visited India in the years 2005, 2008, 2010 and 2012. Special Envoy of President Mahmoud Abbas, Dr. Nabil Sa’ath visited India in November 2014.

From the Indian side too, there have been several visits to Palestine, prominent among them being of Shri Pranab Mukherjee, President of India on 12-13 October 2015, Smt. Sushma Swaraj, External Affairs Minister in January 2016, Shri S.M. Krishna, External Affairs Minister in January 2012, Shri L.K. Advani, Union Home Minister and Shri Jaswant Singh, External Affairs Minister in 2000, and Shri E. Ahamed, Minister of State for External Affairs in 2004, 2007, 2011 and 2013.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi met President Mahmoud Abbas in September 2015 on the side-lines of UN General Assembly session in New York and also in Paris on the side-lines of climate change summit in December 2015.

In April 2015, Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah and Foreign Minister RiadMalki met the EAM Smt. Sushma Swaraj in Indonesia on the side-lines of Asia Africa Commemoration Conference. Mahmoud Habas, Religious Affairs Minister, visited India in May 2015 and during the visit, on behalf of President Abbas, conferred ‘Star of Jerusalem’ award on Mr Syed Vicarudin, Head of Indo-Arab League, for his work on promoting India Palestine relations.

Shri Anil Wadhwa, Secretary (East), Ministry of External Affairs visited Palestine on July 8-9, 2015 and met President Abbas, PM Rami Hamdallah, and senior officials from the Palestinian Foreign Ministry.

Foreign Office Consultations

The first ever Foreign Office Consultations were held in Ramallah on May 2-4, 2015. The Indian side was led by JS WANA whereas Assistant Minister for Asia, Africa and Australia led the Palestinian side.

Projects implemented

Apart from the strong political support to the Palestinian cause at international and bilateral levels, India has been contributing material and technical assistance to the Palestinian people. With the Government of India’s aid, two projects were completed in the field of higher education i.e. Jawaharlal Nehru Library at the Al Azhar University in Gaza city and the Mahatma Gandhi Library-cum-Student Activity Centre at the Palestine Technical College at Deir Al Balah in the Gaza Strip.

India provided plot and constructed a chancery building for the Embassy of Palestine in New Delhi. Two schools were built in Palestine in 2015 through aid provided by India. Government of India has set up an India-Palestine Centre of Excellence in ICT and Innovation in Al Quds University in 2015.

During the visit of President of India to Palestine in October 2015, India announced five more projects (worth $17.79 million) for Palestine. The projects include a Techno Park in Ramallah ($12 million), Palestine Institute of Diplomacy ($4.5 million), and India-Palestine Centre of Excellence in ICT in Gaza ($1 million).

India, Brazil, South Africa (IBSA) Fund has also funded five projects in Palestine, out of which two are completed (Indoor Multipurpose Sports Complex, Ramallah and Phase I of Al Quds hospital, Gaza), two are nearing completion (Phase II of Al Quds hospital, Gaza and Rehabilitation Centre, Nablus) and the work has started on the fifth one (Atta Habib Medical Centre, Gaza).

Memorandums of Understanding

In 1997, an MoU between India and Palestine was signed, which provides for promoting scientific, technical and industrial cooperation including provision of training facilities in specialized areas and undertaking of mutually agreed projects. During the visit of President Abbas to India in 2012 three MoUs were signed in the field of setting up a Centre of Excellence in IT, building of two schools in Palestine and providing equipment and training to Vocational Training Centres in Palestine.

During the visit of President of India to Palestine in October 2015, six MOUs were signed; one between the Palestinian Ministry of Culture and the Indian Council of Cultural Relations and the remaining five MOUs were signed between Indian and Palestinian Universities.

Assistance to Palestine

Monetary Assistance

India provided a budgetary assistance to a tune of US$ 30 million to Palestine in different stages. During the visit of President Abbas to India in the year 2008, India announced a grant of US$ 10 million as budgetary support and this was transferred to Palestinian March 2009. During the visit of President Abbas to India in February 2010, India announced a budgetary support of US$ 10 million and this was transferred in the month of March 2010. Again in 2012, during the visit of President Abbas India announced a grant of US$ 10 million as budgetary support to Palestine. During the year 2015, India provided a total of $9 million as financial assistance to Palestine; $4 million was provided as project assistance towards the reconstruction of Gaza (on 12 January 2015), and $5million was provided as budgetary assistance (on 12 October 2015).

Project Assistance

India has announced project assistance to a tune of US$ 30 million. In 2005, during the visit of President Abbas to India, India announced project assistance for US$ 15 million. In the Paris Donors Conference in December 2007, India announced a fresh commitment of US$ 5 million and during the visit of President Abbas to India in the year 2008, India also announced project assistance to Palestine for US$ 10 million.

Scholarships and ITEC training for Palestinian Nationals:

ICCR

India offers 25 scholarships for Palestinian Nationals under the General Cultural Scholarship Scheme (GCSC) of the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) for higher studies in India.

ITEC

100 slots are offered to the under the ITEC programme to the Palestinian nationals for training courses in India. Around 800 Palestinians have availed training under the ITEC programme.

Indian Visas for Palestinian Nationals

On September 25, 2013 the Representative Office of India, Ramallah started issuance of Visa from its Office. Palestinian nationals can also obtain Indian visa through Tourist Visa on Arrival Facility launched in 2014. Trade Since, trade between India and Palestine is channelized through Israel, complete trade statistics are not available. Limited data suggests that India-Palestine bilateral trade stands at around US$ 30 million.

In terms of sectors, automotive spare parts, medical tourism, agro-products, textiles, fabrics, yarns, readymade garments, household appliances, stationery products, leather and leather products, agro-chemicals, plastic products, sanitary wares, marble and granites, pharmaceuticals and engineering goods have vast scope in Palestine.

Apart from trade in goods, there is vast scope for trade in services. India’s prowess in IT and IT enabled services; consultancy etc. is widely acknowledged in Palestine. In 2014, Indian engineering consulting firm, HOLTEC Consulting has won a tender to prepare a feasibility study for the first cement plant to be established in Palestine by the Palestinian Commercial Services Company.

TCIL and Satyam Computers had undertaken two major telecom software projects in Nablus for Palestinian Telecommunications Company (PALTEL). M/s Goldstone Infotech Limited of Hyderabad had tied up with World Trade Centre of Gaza to establish the first Indo-Palestinian Joint Venture in the Karni Industrial Zone in the Gaza Strip in the field of Software Training and Consultancy.

Culture

Existence of cultural similarities and having a small Indian community in Palestine has made Indian arts and culture very popular in Palestine. Several cultural activities, including film shows and photo exhibitions have been organized by the Representative Office of India in various Palestinian cities in addition to screening of documentaries prepared by Public Diplomacy division in local TV channels, local schools and youth clubs.

A performance by the Indian martial arts dance troupe Kalaripayattu was organized in October 2004 in Ramallah. In 2014, a bust of Mahatma Gandhi was unveiled at the Garden of Nations and a Kathak performance was organized at Ramallah.

On March 8, 2015 a concert of Santoor by Dr. Varsha Agarwal was organised in Ramallah as part of Jasmine World Music Festival. On June 21, 2016 International Day of Yoga was celebrated in Bethlehem. From July 1-9, 2015 an Indian Bazaar was organised in Ramallah. ROI has organized a Kathak performance by Prachee Shah, an exhibition of paintings of Islamic Monuments in India, and a food festival in the year 2015.

India’s Stand

India was one of the few countries to oppose the UN’s partition plan in November 1947, echoing its own experience during independence a few months earlier. In the decades that followed, the Indian political leadership actively supported the Palestinian cause and withheld full diplomatic relations with Israel.

India recognised Israel in 1950 but it is also the first non-Arab country to recognise Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) as the sole representative of the Palestinian. India is also one of the first countries to recognise the statehood of Palestine in 1988.

In the 2014, India favoured UNHRC’s resolution to probe Israel’s human rights violations in Gaza. Despite supporting probe, India abstained from voting against Israel in UNHRC IN 2015.

As a part of Link West Policy, India has de-hyphenated its relationship with Israel and Palestine in 2018 to treat both the countries mutually independent and exclusive.

In June 2019, India voted in favour of a decision introduced by Israel in the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) that objected to granting consultative status to a Palestinian non-governmental organization.

So far India has tried to maintain the image of its historical moral supporter for Palestinian self-determination, and at the same time to engage in the military, economic, and other strategic relations with Israel.

Palestine has asked India to play a leading role in the negotiations with Israel for achieving its independence.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas told Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was on a visit there, that India should play the role of a mediator in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, replacing United States who played the mediator role over the years. “Here we count on India, with its status as a great power, its historical role in the non-aligned movement and in international forums,” Abbas said.

It has been Palestine's dream to form an independent country including West Bank and Gaza Strip, with east Jerusalem as its capital.

Palestinian leadership has been looking for a powerful ally who could play a leading role in the negotiations since it formally declared not to accept the US as a mediator as Washington is 'completely biased' towards Tel Aviv. Palestine rejected US mediation soon after President Donald Trump declared the US recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December and ordered a relocation of American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

The Trump administration's policy change on Jerusalem was received with severe criticism in the region. Along with 127 other countries, India voted in favour of a UN General Assembly resolution asking the US to withdraw its recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

Trump administration then toughened its standby announcing that it would deny $65 million out of the $125 million aid to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA).

Abbas soon turned to India to broker a partition deal after his requests to Europe and the Arab world failed to find proper response.

India has always played a leading role in the pro-Palestinian Non-Aligned Movement. Though traditionally a supporter of the Palestinian cause, India has recently enhanced friendly ties with Israel. It has strengthened diplomatic and defence ties with Israel since Modi came to power. In July 2017, Modi became the first Indian prime minister to visit Israel. In January, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu paid a six-day visit to India.

"Palestinian interests have always got our support and remained at the top in our foreign policy," Modi said during a joint press conference with Abbas, after arriving in Ramallah from Jordan, flying on Jordanian helicopter, guarded by Israeli helicopters.

And Palestine sees this as an opportunity rather than a threat. Palestine leadership identifies India to be the new mediator in place of the United States.

Palestine evaluates that India being “an international force of great prestige and weight” is better placed to play a vital role in the region. In December, when India protested against Palestinian envoy’s participation at an anti-US rally in Rawalpindi addressed by Hafiz Saeed accused in the 2008 Mumbai attacks – Palestine government immediately recalled its Ambassador.

Reiterating the US stand on the holy city, President Trump told Israel Hayom newspaper: "I wanted to make it clear that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel." He declined to comment on a time frame to settle the boundary issue saying that both Israel and Palestine were not committed to peace. "As for specific boundaries, I would support what both sides agreed to,” Trump said.

Palestinian leadership sees India's friendly ties with the US an added advantage since Washington, too, would welcome India playing a greater role in the region.

The world at large needs to come together for a peaceful solution, but the reluctance of the Israeli government and other involved parties have aggravated the issue more. Thus, a balanced approach towards the Israel-Palestine issue would help to maintain favourable relations with Arab countries as well as Israel.


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