No change in India`s policy on Palestine: Sushma Swaraj

Asserting that India`s policy on Palestine issue remains unchanged, government on Monday refused to take sides over the Gaza conflict as it said Israel and Palestine should have peace talks and forestalled a resolution in Rajya Sabha which was demanded by the opposition.

New Delhi: Asserting that India`s policy on Palestine issue remains unchanged, government on Monday refused to take sides over the Gaza conflict as it said Israel and Palestine should have peace talks and forestalled a resolution in Rajya Sabha which was demanded by the opposition.
External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj said the House should not be divided but send out a joint message that wherever there is violence, it is condemnable and both Israel and Palestine should accept Egypt`s offer of peace talks.

She was replying to a short-duration debate on Gaza situation during which opposition condemned the violence in Gaza, pressed for adoption of a resolution, demanded suspension of all military purchases from Israel and wanted India to raise the issue at the UN.

Rejecting opposition demand for a resolution, Deputy Chairman P J Kurien said the Rule 176 under which the discussion took place does not provide for a resolution or motion of any kind.

Besides, he pointed out that the government was not agreeable to a resolution or motion of any kind and there was no consensus, because of which he could do nothing.

Almost the entire opposition, which had stalled the House last week by pressing for a discussion on the issue, was unhappy as none of the demands were met and staged a walkout. BJD, however, did not join them.

Earlier, responding point-by-point to the issues raised by the opposition members during the debate, Swaraj asserted that the country`s policy on Palestine remains unchanged and attacked the opposition for casting aspersions on the Modi government.

"There is absolutely no change in India`s policy towards Palestine, which is that we fully support the Palestinian cause while maintaining good relations with Israel," the Minister said and emphasised that this policy has been in vogue through various governments including those of Congress, BJP and coalition governments headed by Deve Gowda and I K Gujral.

She also rejected the demand by some opposition parties that India should stop purchase of military equipment from Israel.

The External Affairs Minister rejected the contention of
Leader of Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad that India had been late in reacting to the Gaza violence as the debate was not allowed to take place last week.

She said while the debate had been listed in the House on July 16, India had already given its reaction on the matter a day earlier in the joint statement of BRICS attended by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Brazilian city of Fortaleza.

While specifying India`s policy on Palestine issue, Swaraj recited the poems of renowned lyricist Sahir Ludhianvi.

Noting that relations with Israel had improved over the last few years while India maintained strong support to the Palestine cause, the External Affairs Minister said "There is no change in this policy in Narendra Modi`s government nor during Atal Bihari Vajpayee`s time. NDA was for 5 years while Congress for 10 years. Even the coalition governments followed the same policy."

Taking the attack to the Congress camp, Swaraj said India had established diplomatic relations with Israel in 1992 during the P V Narasimha Rao government.

While deftly opposing any resolution as demanded by the opposition, she said "You are asking for a resolution. But does the rule under which the discussion is taking place provide for any resolution? It does not provide for any resolution, motion or voting."

To justify her contention, she cited a ruling by Chairman Hamid Ansari. Kurien also went by her contention.

"So what should be done? There should be one joint message that wherever there is violence, it should be condemned. We should tell both the nations -- Israel and Palestine -- to accept Egypt`s offer of talks. The same message should go from this House, the government and the entire nation," the Minister said.

Taking on CPI-M`s Sitaram Yechury for demanding suspension
of arms purchase from Israel, the External Affairs Minister questioned why his party, which was supporting the UPA-1, had not made such a demand in 2008 when 1400 Palestinians were killed in a similar scale of violence.

"Two such similar incidents of violence had taken place in 2008 and 2012. You had supported the government from outside but you never asked them to stop the purchase of arms. ...Why did you change your stand with the change in the government?" she said.

On this, Yechury said "We had given this suggestion, but it was not accepted. At least you accept it."

While narrating the sequence of events concerning the Gaza violence, Swaraj said peace would have been restored by now had Hamas accepted the ceasefire proposal of Egypt.

An effort to form a unity government by Palestine also failed as Israel refused to recognise a government supported by Hamas even though from outside, leading to breakdown of the peace talks, she added.

Subsequently, three Israeli youths were kidnapped and killed, she said, adding while Israel is blaming Hamas for it, the latter has denied this.

Israel-Palestine dispute has remained an unresolved issue for long and several countries had over the years tried to bring peace in this region starting with the Oslo agreement in 1993, the Minister said.

Swaraj said a ceasefire proposal brokered by Egypt following escalation of violence was rejected by Hamas though Israel had accepted it.

"The ceasefire proposal is still alive ...If the military wing of Hamas would have agreed to this easefire,then peace would have prevailed by now," she said.

Responding to Congress leader Ananda Sharma`s insistance that the PM is obliged to make a statement, Swaraj questioned that how many times Manmohan Singh had made a statement during BRICS summits.

"Not a single time a statement has come from (previous) PM during the BRICS summit," she said.
Swaraj said India gives USD 20 million as budgetary support to Palestine. This includes USD 1 million to United Nations Review for Works to support the Palestine refugees.

Rejecting the Opposition`s allegations that the Modi government was lukewarm on Gaza because it involved Muslims, Swaraj said "We do not discriminate on the basis of religion".

To support her statement, she said the government had early this month rescued 40 Indians, who had already completed their prison term in Saudi Arabia, and all of them were Muslims.

"On July 2, I spoke to the Ambassador and he completed all formalities and on July 17th night... They were boarded on a flight to India. I did not see which religion they were from, they were all Indians." she added.

She also said the government rescued nurses from Iraq, most of them were from Christian community from Kerala.

"Till today, there are 39 Sikhs under captivity in Iraq. They are all from Punjab. We are working day and night to rescue them," Swaraj said.

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