By Nilofar Suhrawardy, TMO
NEW DELHI: India has reaffirmed its support for Palestineâ€™s petition for membership of United Nations as an independent and sovereign state. The issue is at present being considered by the UN Security Councilâ€™s Standing Committee (SC) on Admission of New Members for full UN membership. This committee includes five permanent members of Security Council and ten term members. India is among the eight SC members who declared their support promptly for Palestineâ€™s petition last Friday (September 30). The other SC members who have taken this stand are China, Russia, Brazil, South Africa, Lebanon, Nigeria and Gabon. The Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) and European Union (EU) have also expressed their support for Palestine. China and Russia are among the five permanent members of UNSC. Britain and France are permanent members from among EU members.
Palestineâ€™s petition was forwarded to UN Security Council (UNSC) after Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas laid it out during his address during the 66th annual session of UN General Assembly in New York (September 23). The UNSC forwarded it to SC after considering it during a brief meeting. Abbas certainly created diplomatic history by formally presenting the Palestinian request before the UN. This stand of Abbas also carries tremendous diplomatic significance as United States had made efforts to pressurize the Palestinian leader from not moving to UN. Besides, US has also made it clear that Washington would veto the Palestinian request at UNSC.
Defying US pressure, thus Abbas successfully created diplomatic waves and history by formally seeking a full member status in the UN and recognition of 1967 borders in West Bank, including East Jerusalem and Gaza. At present, Palestine has a permanent observer entity status at the UN.
Though New Delhi has supported Palestinians from the beginning, the recent years have also been witness to India strengthening its ties with United States as well as Israel. By clearly stating Indiaâ€™s support for Palestinianâ€™s demand, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh removed apprehensions of there being any change in New Delhiâ€™s stand towards Palestine. During his address at the UN General Assembly, the Indian Prime Minister reaffirmed Indiaâ€™s support for Palestinian peopleâ€™s struggle. He drew attention to the Palestinian question still being â€œunresolved and a source of great instability and violence.â€ The Prime Minister asserted: â€œIndia is steadfast in its support for the Palestinian peopleâ€™s struggle for a sovereign, independent, viable and united state of Palestine with East Jerusalem as its capital, living within secure and recognizable borders side by side and at peace with Israel.â€ Indicating that India will continue its support for Palestiniansâ€™ demand for full membership in the UN, he said: â€œWe look forward to welcoming Palestine as an equal member of the United Nations.â€
India reaffirmed its support for Palestineâ€™s bid for membership of UN at SC meeting. Drawing attention to Indiaâ€™s support for Palestinians, Indiaâ€™s Permanent Representative to UN, Hardeep Singh Puri said that the SC on Admission of New States, â€œshould report to the Security Council that the Palestinian application for membership be recommended to the General Assembly.â€ The Palestiniansâ€™ membership application â€œis not incompatible with, nor does it exclude, direct negotiations between the parties to resolve the final status issues,â€ Puri pointed out.
Irrespective of whether the US veto prevents Palestine from securing a full membership of UN, certain points cannot be ignored. It has been diplomatically wise of Palestinian leader to approach the UN with request for membership as a â€œState.â€ India has also played its diplomatic cards well by supporting this demand of Palestine. Here it may be noted, unilaterally India has never strayed away from according Palestine the status of a State.
India is the first non-Arab country to have recognized Palestinian State in 1988. A Palestinian embassy is in New Delhi. The foundation stone of this embassy was laid on October 7, 2008 by Prime Minister Singh and the visiting Palestinian President Abbas. The two leaders formally dedicated the building â€œto the people of Palestine as a gift from the people of India.â€ The then four-day visit of President Abbas was accorded the status of a â€œStateâ€ visit.
Undeniably, Indiaâ€™s solidarity with Palestinian people was also asserted by leader of Indian freedom struggle Mahatma Gandhi. In 1947, at the UN General Assembly, India voted against the partition of Palestine. India is also the first non-Arab State to recognize Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) as the sole and legitimate representative of the Palestinian people in 1974. India opened its Representative Office to the Palestine Authority in Gaza in 1996. This was shifted to Ramallah in 2003.
Earlier this year at the UN, on February 18, India voted in favour of a draft resolution which termed Israeli settlement policies as â€œillegal.â€ India explained that this decision was â€œconsistentâ€ with Indiaâ€™s â€œlong-standing position of solidarity with Palestinian people and our position that settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories are illegal under international law.â€ The resolution was vetoed by the US. It was first veto at UN by President Barack Obamaâ€™s government.
Unilaterally and through organizations such as UN, India has always supported the Palestinian struggle. If Palestine does not succeed in becoming the member of UN as a full State, it would still retain the option of asking the 193-member General Assembly for enhanced status, which may not be difficult to secure.
By approaching the UN and securing support of countries like India, Palestine has succeeded in drawing international communityâ€™s attention to their struggle. It may be noted, direct talks between Israel and Palestine have been stalled since September 2010. While Palestine is not against talks with Israel, it is against pursuing them without a freeze on Jewish settlements. The UN-diplomacy has suddenly added a new spring in mediatorsâ€™ efforts to bring Israel and Palestine to the negotiating table.