17/11/2015 11:59 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST

EXCLUSIVE: We Are Doing What We Can To Release Indians In ISIS Captivity, Says Palestine's Ambassador To India

The Palestinian state flag waves in the wind with blue sky background.
chameleonseye via Getty Images
The Palestinian state flag waves in the wind with blue sky background.

In the wake of the brutal Paris attacks, Palestine's influence with ISIS could be pivotal, not least in mediating the release of Indian captives held by the terrorist organisation in Iraq. In an exclusive no-holds-barred interview, Palestine's Ambassador to India, HE Adnan Abualhaija, hits out at global media for ignoring crimes against Palestinians by an Israeli government controlled by ultra-right wing groups, Israel's avowed reluctance for a two-state solution, the "Judaizing" of Jerusalem and its role in the death of Chairman Arafat, and India's growing ties with Israel seen against Palestine's influence in the Arab world.

The recent outbreak of violence in Jerusalem is being called the Third Intifada because it is a leaderless revolt by young Palestinians who are acting spontaneously. How do you see this situation unfolding?

Outbreak is a very curious term. Curious, because hardly anyone living in the occupied Palestinian territory sees it as such. The Israelis, both its government and its people, have continued to oppress, completely oblivious of the world's focus on them. They act with impunity because they know that the media has not been fair to Palestinians now [and nor will it be] in the near future.

"It is high time the world stopped giving rope to the Israelis and demands some answers for a change."

So, while the world media's attention was somewhere else, Israel continued to create more settlements, kill more Palestinians and Judaize Jerusalem in general and Al Aqsa compound in particular. The world's attention was only drawn when Palestinian youths, frustrated with these daily atrocities, decided to retaliate. Therefore "outbreak" is a term wrongly used here. The only upsurge that the land has seen is the upsurge in the settlers' crimes. An upsurge in Israel's acts of saving these criminals.

It is high time the world stopped giving rope to the Israelis and demands some answers for a change. What has changed in the Israeli political landscape is the mainstreaming of ultra-right wing groups. The groups, drawn mostly from rabid right-wing settlers, which once were termed as fringe groups, have now controlled the Israeli government and Knesset. These groups have no interest in upholding the law. In fact, they have gone on record to save the violent criminal settlers from being brought to justice.

Young Palestinians feel they have been let down by their leaders and the ongoing feud between Hamas and Fatah makes it impossible for any progress to be made on a number of fronts including development, employment and negotiations with Israel. Your comment?

When you say that "young Palestinians feel let down by their leadership," do you refer to some cold, hard data or is it your perception? The Israeli hasbara (public diplomacy) tactics thrive on the culture of blaming the victims. And it is sad that the media laps it up eagerly. Of course there are problems between Fatah and Hamas, as there should be in a society aspiring to govern itself by democratic norms if and when it attains freedom. To turn vibrant political opinions into a hindrance to negotiation is an age-old tactic by the Zionist hasbara machine.

I am surprised that some people are still buying it. Let me be very clear that Israel is negotiating with the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), not Hamas or Fatah. As we are negotiating with the State of Israel, not Likud or Labour. What Likud and Labour do in their free time is none of our business, just as what Hamas and Fatah does is none of Israel's. The negotiations are stuck because of Israel's blatant disregard of international law. Its expansion of settlements and its general acting in bad faith has made these negotiations unattainable. Even Israel's greatest ally, the US, admits this. The source of problems facing Palestinian youngsters is Israel's continued occupation of Palestinian lands. Not the government of the State of Palestine.

Do you think a two-state solution remains a possibility given the growing influence of right wing politicians in Israel and a lack of leadership on the Palestinian side? Do you feel the Arab states have failed to protect your interests?

Again, your choice in words leaves much to be desired. Pray, where is so-called "lack of leadership" on the Palestinian side? Is the office of the President of Palestine vacant? Is the chief negotiator of Palestine indisposed? What lack of leadership are you talking about? Please avoid this "balancing act." Put the blame where it has to be put. As mentioned earlier, it is Israel's acting in bad faith that has halted the negotiations.

"Pray, where is so-called 'lack of leadership' on the Palestinian side? Please avoid this 'balancing act'. Put the blame where it has to be put."

Wasn't it the present Prime Minister of Israel who went on record during the election rally to say that there would be no Palestinian state in his watch? It was so blatant that the White House spokesperson made a special mention of this during several press conferences. As far as we are concerned, the two-state solution is not dead. We are committed to it. The question is, is Israel committed to it? Or, let me put it more frankly: has Israel ever been committed to this? Or anything for that matter.

As far as protecting interest is concerned, it is the US that shall have to take the responsibility. Arab states, in spite of having our best interest in mind, can only do so much. It is the US that commands influence on Israel. It is for the US to decide whether or not it would like to be seen as an honest broker in the retrospective.

India has a long-standing relationship with Palestine but in recent years there has been a tilt towards Israel. Even President Pranab Mukherjee's visit was calibrated to include both states. You have previously expressed shock at India's abstention from a Human Rights Council vote against Israel. How would you describe the current state of cooperation and diplomatic relations with India?

India's relationship with Israel is her own to keep. We are not a party there. Our only concern is that this relationship should not be at the cost of the India-Palestine relationship. And the Government of India has gone to some length to assuage our concerns.

The current level of diplomatic and other cooperation between India and Palestine is very satisfactory. India has been our traditional ally and we have reason to believe that this status will remain unchanged. India has stepped up cooperation in several fields, especially capacity-building, health and education. As far as political support is concerned, India voted in the UN on the issue of raising the Palestinian flag. That's a good indication in my personal opinion.

President Mukherjee's visit to Palestine was historical in every aspect. His reiterating of commitment towards a sovereign and independent Palestinian State came as a big moral boost for us. He also opined that "mere religion cannot be the basis of a State", and reiterated India's "principled support to the Palestinian cause".

India is now the second-biggest importer of Israeli arms and our intelligence agencies work closely together vis-à-vis Islamic terror groups. It appears as though we are natural allies with Israel whereas our relationship with the Palestinian people is based on historic, not contemporary, considerations...

The relationship between India and Palestine is as much based on realpolitik as it is on historical, emotional bonds. We also have intelligence cooperation with India. Palestine is doing whatever it can to secure the release of Indians under Islamic State's captivity in Iraq, even as we speak.

Also, Palestine is a big supporter of India's aspiration for larger role in global affairs and its desire to be a permanent member in the UN Security Council. The entire Arab world keeps Palestine in good faith and values our judgements. These nations shall have a pivotal role to play in any future expansion of the United Nations.

"India's relationship with Israel is her own to keep... Our only concern is that this relationship should not be at the cost of the India-Palestine relationship."

No modern nation puts all the eggs in one basket. You mentioned the trade between India and Israel. Let me add that I have never seen such a skewed trade of balance. While the trade between India and Israel is $6 billion, that too skewed towards Israel, the trade between India and the Arab world is close to $170 billion at last count. It is also prudent to mention the seven to eight million Indians working in the Arab world who send over $40 billion as remittance every year.

The current refugee crisis in Europe is not new to the Palestinians who have been living in refugee camps for generations. What is the condition of the Palestinian diaspora and what role do they play in national affairs?

Let's start with the reason first. Why are there Palestinian refugees at the first place? It is because of Israel's ethnic cleansing of the historical Palestinian lands. And while its armed terrorists were ethnically cleansing the Palestinians, the world sat and watched. Did nothing. Palestinian refugees have paid the price of other nation's crises. They have gone through unmentionable sufferings in all these years.

However, they have shown to the world that they are a resilient people. In spite of living in really harsh conditions, they have thrived against seemingly insurmountable odds. It is therefore important that any solution must keep the right to return in its locus.

As far as those Palestinians who have adopted other countries as their home are concerned, we look at them with pride. The Palestinian diaspora has contributed in the nation building of any country they have been part of. Our diaspora in Latin America is a source of pride for us. They are very active with solidarity movements as are those in the US and Europe. Their role in making the "Boycott, Disinvestment and Sanctions (BDS)" movement a force to reckon with is a testimony of this zeal. They have not forgotten their homeland and let me reiterate that neither has their homeland forgotten them. The umbilical cord is still attached and attached it shall be till the end of time.

The controversy surrounding the death of Chairman Arafat -- was it polonium? -- remains an unsolved mystery. Do you have any updates on the case filed by his widow Zuha and whom do you believe was behind his untimely demise?

I am not a competent authority to speak on the nature of the poison used to assassinate Abu Ammar. What we know for sure is that it was the terrorist and apartheid regime in Tel Aviv that killed Abu Ammar, and it has gone unpunished. A day shall come when we will be free, and that day is near, and that shall be the day we'll question the world as to why they allowed Israel to act with impunity.

"The Israeli Government sort of incarcerated [Yasser Arafat] for over two years. When the effects of poison first appeared, they did not allow unhindered medical assistance."

The Israeli Government sort of incarcerated him for over two years. When the effects of poison first appeared, they did not allow unhindered medical assistance. They only allowed it when they were reasonably sure that the poison, whatever it was, has already done an irreversible damage.

India supports capacity-building, training and education programs for Palestinian youth. Can you tell us how many have been trained and what activities in India are Palestinian support groups involved in?

The numbers are in hundreds and India is stepping up this cooperation further. As mentioned earlier, India is helping especially in the field of medicine and education. Palestine has some really fruitful research and experience in the field of agriculture and we are looking towards widening our cooperation with India as soon as possible.

As far as solidarity groups are concerned, we cooperate at several fronts, mostly related to awareness campaigns. To give an example, The Freedom Theatre group from Jenin, Palestine has collaborated with Jan Natya Manch of India in order to perform in 11 cities, even as we speak. This is a first of its kind collaboration. Palestine commands an immense goodwill and India and we are grateful to Indian people for that. It is this moral strength that our enemy despises more than ever.

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