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Delhi caught in expulsion duel

New Delhi, Sept. 14: A Palestinian move to enlist Indian support in getting Israel “de-recognised” in the United Nations, probably in response to plans to expel Yasser Arafat, has put Delhi in a spot.

Early last week, India assured visiting Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon that it would not move an anti-Tel Aviv resolution at any multilateral forum. The Palestinian move has thus made Delhi — one of the most vocal and consistent supporters of its cause — uneasy.

Since 1992, when it established diplomatic ties with Israel, India has performed a fine balancing act between Tel Aviv and the Palestinians. But this latest move might upset that balance.

Reacting sharply to Israeli plans to exile Arafat, India yesterday said the Palestinian President was an elected representative of his people and a symbol of their struggle. It said Arafat’s forcible removal could have “serious negative consequences”.

Delhi had responded cautiously to the Israeli move on Friday, but changed its tone yesterday. “India has always recognised President Arafat as an elected leader of the Palestinian people and a symbol of their cause,” foreign ministry spokesperson Navtej Sarna said in a statement.

He added: “Any restriction on his movement and his forcible removal from Palestine territory would have serious negative consequences. It (India) strongly urges that no such move be contemplated.”

The proposed Palestinian resolution, to be moved during the General Assembly session in New York later this month, is believed to have been prompted by Israeli plans to exile Arafat.

Palestinian leaders have already begun sounding out “friendly countries” like India for support.

South Block officials said “de-recognising” a UN member is difficult and takes time. The move is, therefore, seen to be an attempt to make a political point and focus world attention on West Asia.

The stalled peace process in the region is bound to be one of the main issues at the coming UN session. Palestinians allege that Israel has violated or ignored every UN resolution and international agreement since Sharon came to power in March 2001.

They argue that the occupation of Palestinian land is the main reason for continuing violence in the region and the main stumbling block for a return to peace.

The Palestinians hope that moving a resolution in the General Assembly might make world leaders consider steps to resolve the impasse and result in Israel ending its occupation.

India and Israel differed over Arafat’s role in the West Asia peace process during Sharon’s visit. Tel Aviv said the Palestinian President was a terrorist, not a peacemaker. It pointed out that he had undermined peace and encouraged acts of terror against Israel.

But though India is keen to work closely with Israel against global terrorism, it has made it clear it will not dump Arafat. Even so, if the Palestinian move to de-recognise Israel gathers momentum, it could cause Delhi some embarrassment.

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