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Palestine still remains core issue in Middle East

Palestine
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M K Bhadrakumar |

The horrific shooting down of 17 unarmed, peaceful Palestinian demonstrators on Friday by the Israeli security forces has once again underscored that Israel’s occupation of Arab homelands still remains the root cause of the Middle East crisis. The protestors’ demand is that Israel should concede the right of the 1.3 million refugees (according to UN figures of registered refugees) to “return home” from where it forcefully drove them out, and to “break the siege” of Gaza by Israel.

The Palestinians have pitched five camps near the border for the protest and intend to continue with the protests till mid-May. According to the Israeli official statement, thousands of Palestinians were “rioting throughout the Gaza Strip, rolling burning tires and hurling stones at the security fence and at IDF troops, who are responding with riot dispersal means and firing towards main instigators.”

When soldiers shoot down Palestinian civilians in cold blood in their ghettos — especially Jewish soldiers — it is reprehensible. Have Jews lost their collective memory of the great Warsaw uprising against the Nazis?

The protests have erupted at an awkward time for Israel when it had thought that its ploy to distract attention away from the Palestinian problem and make Iran’s regional surge in Syria the centre-piece of regional politics has been a brilliant success. As the month of May draws closer, passions will rise high. President Trump plans to transfer the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem on May 14 to coincide with the 70th anniversary of Israel’s declaration of independence. But, for the Palestinians, that day marks the 70th anniversary of “Nakba” (Catastrophe). By the way, Trump also has to decide on the Iran nuclear deal by May 12.

Read more: India refuses to condemn Trump’s Jerusalem decision

Clearly, the potential for more clashes and bloodshed exists. Another wave of “anti-American” feelings will sweep the Arab Street. But in the final analysis, Trump is unlikely to be detracted on his path. He needs Jewish backing for his re-election bid in the 2020 election. Period. And, Islamophobia permeates his veins and he has now surrounded himself with like-minded people, especially the incoming Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Advisor John Bolton and the US’ ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley.

Trump counts on the fact that the sheikhs in the Persian Gulf oligarchies do not have any real sense of involvement in the Palestinian cause. Qatar is the solitary exception. Qatar and Turkey have been extending patronage to the Hamas (which is part of the Muslim Brotherhood) in the recent years. Interestingly, during a phone call that Trump made to Turkish President Recep Erdogan last night to discuss “cooperation and coordination” between the two countries in the Syrian conflict, the latter raised the situation in Gaza and the violence let loose by Israel. Erdogan’s crisp message to Trump was, ‘Shouldn’t you be attending to things that concern you such as Israel-Palestine conflict than dabble in Syria?’

The protestors’ demand is that Israel should concede the right of the 1.3 million refugees (according to UN figures of registered refugees) to “return home” from where it forcefully drove them out, and to “break the siege” of Gaza by Israel.

At the request of Kuwait, the UN Security Council held emergency consultations on Friday regarding the situation in Gaza. Kuwait, Turkey, Egypt and Jordan were in the forefront of Muslim countries voicing their anger over the brutality by the Israeli army. The UN chief António Guterres has called for “an independent and transparent” investigation into the violence. But Guterres must be knowing that Israel cares two hoots for his opinion. The Israeli ambassador to the UN and Nikki Haley kept away from the Security Council meeting yesterday. Today, Israel has threatened to carry forward the military operations and invade Gaza if need be.

Read more: Will India regret its stance on Jerusalem issue?

The Modi government now gets another West Asian foreign-policy headache within days of the mess-up in the handling of the killing of 38 Indians in Iraq by the ISIS. Modi government has been doing nice trapeze act so far on the Palestine issue. The MEA announced only on March 28 that it has increased the financial contribution to the UN’s assistance program for Palestine. Should India be upright in condemning Israel’s state terrorism or look away? PM Modi recently paid a visit to Palestine.

To my mind, the government should not hesitate to unequivocally condemn the Israeli act. When soldiers shoot down Palestinian civilians in cold blood in their ghettos — especially Jewish soldiers — it is reprehensible. Have Jews lost their collective memory of the great Warsaw uprising against the Nazis?

But then, it is too much to expect our government to show moral courage. The Hindutva folks regard Zionism as a kindred ideology. (I sometimes wonder how they manage to admire Zionists and Hitler alike.) Therefore, in all likelihood, Modi government will waffle – neither here nor there. Sad, isn’t it, that the moral fibre has become so weak?

M. K. Bhadrakumar has served as a career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service for over 29 years, with postings as India’s ambassador to Uzbekistan (1995-1998) and to Turkey (1998-2001). He writes extensively in Indian newspapers, Asia Times and the “Indian Punchline”. This piece was first published in Indian Punchline. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Global Village Space’s editorial policy.

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