April 3, 2002


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The Rediff Interview/Khaled El Shaikh

'We are worried about President Arafat's life'

Ever since the Israeli Army laid siege to Palestine President Yasser Arafat's headquarters in Ramallah, Khaled El Shaikh -- the Palestinian ambassador to India -- has had sleepless nights. Shaikh's austere office in New Delhi has seen a flurry of diplomatic activity. He has just received Arafat's special envoy and joined him in hectic parleys with Indian leaders. Together the two men have tried to persuade old friend India to help them out in this difficult hour.

Although tired at the end of a long day, Shaikh spoke at length to Basharat Peer at the Palestinian embassy in New Delhi. The ambassador discussed the prevailing situation in Palestine and expressed his hopes and fears and his expectations from India. Excerpts:

How do look at the Indian response to the situation in Palestine?

Our people are hoping for a stronger stand from India. We hope as an old friend, India will come out very strongly against the Israeli oppression faced by President Arafat and the Palestinian people.

India should be firm in condemning Israeli brutalities and take proactive measures. [It should] exert pressure on Israel to stop this aggression.

The issue at the moment is that not President Arafat only but the Palestinian authority itself is facing destruction, which is not in the interest of peace.

Apart from making appeals and issuing statements, do you believe India can use its ties with Israel to negotiate a way out of this deadlock? And would Israel listen?

We are expecting India to play an active role in getting both sides to the negotiating table. By doing so India will be helping both the parties as the current military aggression by Israelis is not in their benefit. It will destroy Israel.

Israel claims that India is a good friend. If it is true then Israel should listen to India.

A special envoy of President Yasser Arafat has flown to India and held meetings with Indian leaders. What was the purpose of the visit and how successful was it?

The special envoy, Hani-Al Hasan, who is a senior political adviser to President Arafat, met the Indian foreign ministry officials, National Security Adviser Brajesh Mishra and leaders of political parties.

The response we got was quite warm. We have been assured that India will stand by its traditional position on Palestine and support the just cause of the Palestinian people.

Did the growing affinity between India and Israel cast a shadow on the special envoy's mission?

The Indian leadership has assured us that India's relationship with Israel is not at the cost of its friendship with Palestine.

Israel is not following the resolutions of the United Nations asking it to stop military operations. What are you expecting from the international community now? What role do you see for India?

It is time for the deployment of an international peacekeeping force in Palestine. The United Nations Security Council utilises its Chapter VII to militarily enforce its resolutions. It happens when it comes to Iraq or Afghanistan or Yugoslavia. But the United States does not let it happen in case of Palestine.

The UN peacekeeping force should not only bring a ceasefire, but also determine who is responsible for the breach of fire. Israel has been rejecting the deployment of any such force because Israelis know they will be exposed.

We expect India to lead a campaign for the deployment of this peacekeeping force in Palestine.

The Israeli military operation against President Arafat was launched soon after the Arab League ratified a peace proposal offering Israel recognition, peace and normal relations in return for land it had captured since 1967, the establishment of a Palestinian state and return of 3.8 million Palestinian refugees. Where do you see the Arab League peace proposal now?

'Suicide bombing is not a luxury. The Palestinians are resorting to it out of despair, frustration and compulsion.' Palestinian ambassador The Arab League peace proposal was a significant one. The Arab countries came together for the first time and offered Israel peace, recognition and normal relations. But by attacking the Palestinian area, Israel has clearly rejected it. Which Arab state can talk of peace when such aggression happens?

One of the aims of the Israeli aggression was to nip the peace proposal in the bud. Sharon has made a grave mistake by doing so. It would be difficult for Arabs to come with a peace proposal again. Instead it might lead to mobilisation of military resources by Arab countries against Israel.

It is being felt that the negotiations between Israel and Palestine failed as they have played up the remaining disagreements. Should the international community then provide the two sides with a non-negotiable final agreement? Is that possible?

We do not need new proposals now. We need sincere effort to implement the international legitimacy. So many plans and proposals are already there. We need firm commitment to resolve the dispute.

In fact, intervention by a third international party is needed. I mean an unbiased party, not like the Americans, who see things through an Israeli eye.

We need someone to say: let Israel withdraw from Palestinian territory till pre-September 2000 positions and let there be a simultaneous ceasefire. Would the Americans guarantee that?

Are there any such initiatives that would satisfy you?

Some Europeans have a proposal for an international conference that would put a framework for a solution and commit all the parties to its sincere implementation. It is being worked upon.

Since President Arafat is under siege and the suicide bombings by Palestinians have continued unabated, are there fears for his life?

Yes. Anything can happen. We are worried about President Arafat's life. Sharon himself said that he regrets not having killed Arafat before. Israel does not need a pretext to kill someone, if it is determined.

The Islamic terrorist group Hamas has said that it will continue all kinds of attacks against Israel. Are these suicide bombings justified from an Islamic point of view? How long are they going to continue?

Islam is clear on the issue of killing innocents. The Quran does not allow it. It says if you kill one man, you have murdered the whole humanity.

But apart from the religious point of view here we have to look at the roots of the actions. One has to understand why a young man is blowing himself into pieces. Suicide bombing is not a luxury. The Palestinians are resorting to it out of despair, frustration and compulsion.

Ninety-nine per cent of our causalities are civilians. Israelis go around killing our people, bulldozing houses. Suicide bombings are a reaction to the brutalities of the Israeli Army and Israeli occupation.

Let the Israeli terror stop, let the occupation end, there will not be any suicide attacks. But as long as Israelis march into our area with tanks, our people will not offer them flowers.

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