Two days after it rejected opposition demands in the Lok Sabha for a statement condemning the Israeli military strikes on Gaza, the government was forced to agree to a discussion in Rajya Sabha after chairman Hamid Ansari rejected External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj’s plea against a debate on the matter.
Official sources said the debate is likely to take place at noon Monday. The opposition contended that a “wrong message” had already gone out to the world about the “silence” of India on such a “serious issue”.
The issue echoed in the Rajya Sabha for two days with the opposition insisting on an early debate while the government resisted, arguing that any discourteous remark could affect India’s relations with Israel and Palestine.
External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj even wrote to Ansari, saying that the notices given by opposition members for a debate were inadmissible. But Ansari said: “I am unable to accede to the request of the Minister… I do not find any infirmity in the notices given by the Leader of the Opposition and others.”
Ansari, however, did not give a ruling in favour of immediate discussion, saying a date will be fixed in consultation with the government.
After proceedings of Rajya Sabha were washed out, the government agreed in the evening to have a discussion on Monday.
Both Israel and Palestine have been actively lobbying with South Block for the last one week. The Centre does not want to choose sides and send any signal to the Arab world which will jeopardise efforts to rescue Indian nationals caught in a hostage-situation in Iraq.
Sources told The Indian Express that the new Israel ambassador, Daniel Carmon, who landed in New Delhi on Wednesday morning, went to South Block and met key officials in the Ministry of External Affairs within a few hours of his arrival.
Confirming this, Israel embassy spokesperson Ohad Horsandi said it was “an introductory meeting” in which the new envoy “briefed” the Indian side about the situation in Gaza.
South Block sources also confirmed receipt of a note verbale from Palestine earlier this week, in which it made clear its position on the situation. Palestine Embassy’s charge d’affaires Saleh Fhied Mohammad confirmed this and said India has been asked to use its good offices to bring an end to the violence.
“We hope India will condemn the aggression, which is consistent with its policy of supporting the Palestinian cause,” said Mohammad, currently the senior most diplomat in the Palestine embassy since the ambassador is out of the country.
“India’s position on the Israeli-Palestinian subject is known. Israel, India and other like minded countries are facing terror threats from organisations with similar radical ideology such as al Qaeda, ISIS, LeT and Hamas. These organisations are committed to kill, kidnap and terrorise civilians and should be treated as terror organisations,” said Horsandi.
India’s “equidistant” statement on July 10, which was carefully crafted since Delhi is currently knocking on “all doors” for assistance in resolving the hostage crisis in Iraq, has not pleased either Israel or Palestine.
At least 41 Indians are reportedly being held captive by Sunni militant group ISIS. MEA spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin said earlier that they are knocking on “front doors, back doors and even trap doors”.
“At a time when we need help from each of the players in the region to resolve the hostage crisis, be it the Arab countries or the Israelis or the Americans, we do not want to antagonise anyone by issuing a statement. A government statement or a discussion in parliament favouring any side could be detrimental to our efforts at this critical stage,” said a government official.
“While there is merit in the argument that we held discussions on the Tamil situation in Sri Lanka, we should not forget that we can influence outcomes in that country. In case of Israel-Palestine, our statements will not impact and determine outcomes on the Gaza situation,” said another official.
Sources said the Indian statement last week was “balanced”, keeping in mind all these factors. In its statement, India expressed “deep concern” at the steep escalation of violence between Israel and Palestine, “particularly heavy air strikes in Gaza, resulting in tragic loss of civilian lives and heavy damage to property”.
At the same time, it said India is “alarmed” at the cross-border provocations resulting from rocket attacks against targets in parts of Israel.
Calling on “both sides” to exercise maximum restraint and avoid taking actions that may further escalate the situation, threatening the peace and security of the region, it said India remains firmly convinced that “dialogue” is the only viable option.