The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Vajpayee tiptoes on Arafat tightrope

New Delhi, Sept. 12: India today reacted with caution to Israel’s plan to exile Yasser Arafat, reluctant to shift from its stated position on the Palestinian President but mindful of its new-found bonhomie with Tel Aviv.

“We disapprove of any such plan,” foreign ministry spokesman Navtej Sarna said. The Israeli cabinet last night decided in principle to expel Arafat but gave no time frame.

Arafat’s role in the West Asia peace process was an area of disagreement between India and Israel during the recent visit of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to Delhi. The Israeli leader had urged India to look beyond Arafat, saying he was an obstacle to peace and was “encouraging” terrorist activities.

But Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and other senior members of his delegation made it clear that despite the growing relationship between Delhi and Tel Aviv, India was not willing to dump Arafat. The Indian leadership made it clear to Sharon that, as far as Delhi is concerned, Arafat continues to be the main leader of Palestine.

The reaction to the proposed Israeli move to throw out Arafat is consistent with India’s stand, but that it has been muted indicates that Delhi is keeping in mind Israeli sensitivity.

South Block officials, however, argued that India was only reacting to a proposal. The government might come out with a sharper reaction if the Israelis go ahead with their threat, they said.

But it is not clear what Israel plans to do with Arafat. So far, it has said he should be “removed”. This does not explain whether it is a signal to the outside world, particularly the US, to put pressure on the Palestinian President to withdraw from the scene and bring back Abu Mazzan — a person Tel Aviv wants to do business with — or some other moderate Palentine leader.

The Palestinian leadership so far appears happy with India’s stand during talks with Sharon. “We are happy with the Indian stand. But then, it was expected,” Palestinian ambassador Osama Musa said.

“India is a big country in every sense of the word. It is no pushover. You don’t expect a country like India to dump its principles because it wants to improve relations with some other country,” he said.

Musa questioned the Israelis’ respect for international law, saying: “How can Israel dictate who will be the leader of a sovereign country like Palestine'”

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