A day after he shared the stage with Mumbai terror attack mastermind and Jamaat-ud-Dawa chief Hafiz Saeed at a rally in Rawalpindi, Palestine on Saturday recalled its envoy to Pakistan, Waleed Abu Wali. Earlier, India said it had lodged a protest with the Palestinian envoy in New Delhi and the authorities in Ramallah, calling the presence of Wali at Saeed’s rally “unacceptable”.
Palestine Ambassador to India Adnan Abu Alhaijaa told The Sunday Express that Ali has been “recalled” by the Palestinian Foreign Ministry. “He has been asked to go back to Palestine. He will report to Ramallah soon,” Alhaijaa said. Later in the evening, the Palestinian Foreign Ministry confirmed that Ali was being recalled “immediately”, and said that while his presence at the rally was an “unintended mistake”, it “cannot be justified”.
“We share historical ties with India, which are close and friendly… This is not acceptable that a Palestinian Ambassador shared the stage with a terrorist wanted by India. Nobody in Palestine… whether the President, or the Foreign Ministry, or anyone… finds this acceptable. So, when such a thing happens, we have to take action, especially since our Indian friends are affected,” Alhaijaa said.
Alhaijaa has been coordinating with the Indian government to schedule a possible visit by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Palestine. The Indian Express had reported on Saturday that the PM is likely to make a visit to Ramallah a month after Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu visits India in January.
Asked if Modi’s visit was scheduled to take place in mid-February, Alhaijaa said, “Inshallah (God Willing)!” “We are with India in its fight against terrorism. We will not let this incident hamper the relationship between India and Palestine.” Sources said that when South Block officials spoke to Palestinian diplomats on Saturday to lodge the protest over the Rawalpindi rally, they immediately “expressed regret”. “Since both sides want the Prime Minister’s visit to take place, Ramallah did not want any such incident to become an unnecessary irritant,” a South Block source said.
In a statement Saturday, the Ministry of External Affairs said the Indian government has “strongly conveyed to the Palestinian side that the Palestinian Ambassador in Pakistan’s association with terrorist Hafiz Saeed, who is proscribed by the United Nations, at an event in Rawalpindi on 29.12.2017, is unacceptable”. It said that concerns were conveyed in both New Delhi to the Palestinian Ambassador and in Ramallah to the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates, State of Palestine.
“The Palestinian side has conveyed deep regrets over the incident and assured the Government of India that they are taking serious cognizance… They have said they will deal with this matter appropriately. It was also conveyed that Palestine highly values its relationship with India and stands with us in the war against terrorism, and will not engage with those who commit acts of terror against India,” the MEA statement said. While regretting Ali’s presence at the Saeed event, Alhaijaa said the envoy had gone for an Al Quds (Jerusalem) conference.
“There were some politicians, parliamentarians… He did not know the terrorist Hafiz Saeed. In fact, when Saeed spoke, he asked people around him who he was… and then the Ambassador gave his own speech and left the stage. So, he did not know the terrorist personally. But still, we cannot find this acceptable.”
In the statement issued on Saturday evening, the Palestinian Foreign Ministry stressed on the commitment of the State of Palestine and “keenness to maintain strong and friendly relations with the Republic of India, as well as its support to the efforts made by the Republic of India in its war against terrorism… as our nations are real partners in the war against terrorism”.
“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates considered the participation of our Ambassador in Pakistan in a mass rally in solidarity with Jerusalem, held in Rawalpindi on Friday and in the presence of individuals accused of supporting terrorism, an unintended mistake, but not justified,” it said.
The statement added, “The State of Palestine highly appreciates India’s support in its tireless efforts to end the Israeli occupation and the establishment of an independent State of Palestine, on the 1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital, and this is especially seen in the honorable position that India has taken by voting in favour of the resolution in the United Nation General Assembly last week.”
In fact, Ali’s presence with Saeed had disappointed many in New Delhi particularly as it came just days after India voted in favour of Palestine at the United Nations, over US President Donald Trump’s move to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. India had decided to vote along with the principled position taken by New Delhi for the last seven decades, despite the BJP-led NDA government taking steps to strengthen bilateral relations with Israel.
Late on Saturday evening, the Pakistan Foreign Office also issued a statement, reiterating its support for the Palestinian cause, and saying that after Pakistan voted in the UN against the US decision on Jerusalem, a number of rallies had been held in Pakistan. “The Ambassador of Palestine has participated in many of these meetings. The public meeting held (on Friday) was yet another demonstration of the Pakistani strong sentiments in support of the Palestinian cause. This public rally was attended by thousands of people… More than 50 speakers addressed the rally, including Hafiz Saeed. Contrary to the impression being created, UN proscription does not place any restrictions on the freedom of expression… The people and Government of Pakistan respect the Palestinian Ambassador’s active participation in events organised to express solidarity with the people of Palestine.”
Ali is said to be quite popular among the diplomatic fraternity in Islamabad and, according to Indian government sources, had, in October-end, held a farewell reception for outgoing Indian High Commissioner Gautam Bambawale. A western diplomat based in Islamabad said, “This was a case of poor judgment by the Palestinian Ambassador.”