Two’s company, three’s a crowd- goodbye Palestine!

PLO hopes Modi will invoke historical ties with Palestine.

WrittenBy:Anchal Vohra
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In the short course of a half hour drive from Damascus Gate in East Jerusalem, the first block of the wall separating ‘Israel’ from area under the control of Palestinians appears.

Ramallah, 10 km north of Jerusalem, currently serves as the de-facto administrative capital of the Palestinian National Authority.

Israeli civilians, by law, are not allowed to enter Ramallah, only permitted cars are let in through the security check points manned by young and heavily armed Israeli soldiers. 

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Inside Ramallah, the graffiti on the dividing wall depicts Israeli soldiers in olive fatigues firing at veiled mothers and children as Keffiyeh wearing Arab teenagers play saviour. The Palestine Liberation Front or PLO’s former leader, Yasser Arafat is portrayed next to Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prisons and serving as a reminder of the resistance. 

Ramallah’s bazaar is busy with shoppers navigating through vegetable vendors, walking past Abaya-clad mannequins and piles of garbage. While inside the wall the city bears a look of normalcy, it is struggling to keep the Palestinian cause relevant. 

Ayman Hussain Daraghmeh has just returned from a meeting with the family of a Palestinian arrested by Israeli soldiers a few days ago. Daraghmeh is a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council (the would-be parliament of a future Palestinian state) from the ‘change and Reform bloc’ which is affiliated with Hamas; de-facto rulers of the Gaza strip considered terrorists by the European Union and the United States. Daraghmeh is especially upset with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s stand alone visit to Israel.

“It is an unfortunate development that the Indian PM is supporting Israel which occupies our land despite our historical ties.” He reminisced about the good old days of India’s unquestioned support to Palestine and added, “I remember the days when Arafat visited India often to meet his ‘sister’, Indira Gandhi.” India was the first non-Arab country to recognise the PLO’s authority as “the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people.” A PLO office was set up in Delhi in 1975, with full diplomatic relations established in March 1980.

Daraghmeh lived in Delhi’s Lajpat Nagar for nine years and studied chemistry in Delhi University’s South Campus, “My Professor was a Sardar Ji, Gurmeet Singh. Such a nice man”, he said. 

For over half a century; since the creation of the Israeli State in 1947, on a land dominated by Palestinian Arabs, Indian governments toed Nehru’s line on the conflict that is at the heart of the West Asian theatre and opted for a pro-Palestine stand. It was seen as a ‘moralistic’ foreign policy. Bowing to national interest, the Congress opened up to Israel in 1992 and established diplomatic relations. Modi’s 2017 Israel embrace has made the switch to a pragmatic policy complete and a pro-Palestine policy a thing of the past. 

Not just the acolytes of Hamas but most other political entities in Palestine are invoking historical ties.

Aqel M Taqz of the left leaning Palestine People’s Party or the PPP questioned India’s morality. He claimed the money India spends on defence equipment from the Jewish State strengthens the military edifice of Israel which in turn oppresses the Palestinian people. “India’s cooperation will encourage Israel to not stick to the UN resolutions and behave like a country that is above all international laws” he said.

36 km from Ramallah, in Nablus, his colleague Myassar Atyani of the like minded Popular Federation for the Liberation of Palestine or the PFLP is fuming over the Indian Prime Minister’s Israel tilt. 

“Modi must also visit our settlements, he must meet the Palestinians imprisoned by Israel on flimsy charges. Will he do that?” she asked. 

Atyani claimed her olive field was confiscated by Jews supported by the Israeli State and points to several settlements that have come up in the West Bank since the Israeli Defence Forces captured east Jerusalem in the Six-Day War in 1967. Under the Oslo accord in 1995, the Israelis, in stages, were supposed to vacate Area C in the West bank entirely, instead, they have continued to expand. 

Eli, Shilo and Ofra are just some of the Israeli settlements built in defiance of the agreement on the Ramallah to Nablus stretch. 

“Most of the settlements are on hill tops, because that gives them a vantage point”, a fellow passenger explained on the bus ride. These settlements are guarded by the Israeli soldiers and populated by, from the looks of it, many orthodox Jews. 

Palestinians fear the Israelis may never leave and that they may not be back in focus as long as the crises in countries like Syria, Libya and Iraq are the priority. India’s Israel overtures at such time are particularly painful. 

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Fateh, the ruling party in the Palestinian Authority isn’t yet ready to concede the loss. Abdala Abdala of the party says, “We have a very strong relationship, one stand alone visit wont impact it”. 

When asked if Modi was planning or even thinking about a visit to Palestine, the foreign secretary of India, S Jaishankar said, “When we plan a visit, the spokesperson informs the media.” So that would be a ‘no’, as of now then.

The author can be contacted on Twitter @anchalvohra.


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