Israeli Ambassador DANIEL CARMON arrived in India when the third major conflict between Israel and Hamas was erupting. He talked to Sudeep Paul about the bilateral road ahead and the Gaza conflict:
The ‘softer side’ of the Israel-India bilateral relationship seems to be getting publicity now: irrigation, agri-horticulture, water treatment technology, science and technology, space. But we don’t talk openly about defence and security collaboration. Having been here for a couple of months now, what is your impression of the state of affairs and what lies ahead?
I was the head of Mashav, Israel’s Agency for International Development Cooperation. So I had a soft landing in something that was at the top of my agenda before. The biggest agriculture projects we have abroad are the projects in India. But the term “soft side” doesn’t do justice. There is a new kind of diplomacy, a new area of diplomacy — call it development diplomacy, economic diplomacy, academic diplomacy, scientific diplomacy, R&D diplomacy — we’d put all those under the head “diplomacy”. I’d put all of them on the table and ask: what does Israel-India mean? And Israel-India means a big chunk of defence of course — we do not deny it, we just don’t talk about it. But it’s there, and I mean cooperation, capabilities and interests.
But this table has a lot more to offer. It touches the last inhabitant of Israel and of India, covering agriculture, water, energy, irrigation, water management, desalination, recycling of water, etc. There are many areas in which Israel has experience and expertise because of the circumstances of its foundation and its geopolitical context. We were our own development laboratory. Ten years after independence, we started sharing what we had learnt on our own with our friends. India is a perfect match for Israel in terms of what we can offer each other. We both offer what we have to each other, and this is why I call it “development diplomacy”. And the things I have mentioned are ones India is in need of, these are areas that coincide.
We listened carefully to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s speech on Independence Day, and the following two weeks we analysed what we could offer and where, in a way that would synchronise with the PM’s message. Does Israel have a role and where can it come in? All of this comes with a very specific configuration. Israel is small and not so rich. We do not offer what other, bigger countries can finance, but we are very rich in other resources. We have shown it in our past development work, we are showing it in our agricultural projects that are about to enter a new phase. And we have our centres of excellence. There are other areas. We are looking at how we can do these things as a government and how we can bring in private Israeli businesses, which would be a public-private partnership. Of course, our counterparts are our Indian colleagues, because we cannot do anything by ourselves. The agricultural centres are Indo-Israeli Centres of Excellence. There is a big Indian ingredient in this partnership. In the past few weeks, I have met ministers, chief ministers, the minister of urban development, the CMs of Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh. I left my conversations with the two CMs very encouraged about the future of the partnership between Israel and India as a federation, and also between Israel and individual Indian states.
This Gaza ceasefire has endured so far. How can the problem of Hamas et al be solved while ensuring peace for Israeli citizens on the border and civic and material improvement for Gaza residents?
This was not the first but third major round of hostilities in an area that became, in the last 10 years, a terrorist stronghold. As per the 1995 Oslo II Accord, a very clear political standard was to be adhered to — Judea and Samaria (West Bank) and Gaza were to be demilitarised, the maximum security measure would be a civilian police force. But we saw the takeover of the Gaza Strip, in a violent coup,
by the terrorist organisation, Hamas. The Gaza Strip is a very complex piece of land. But after Israel unilaterally disengaged in 2005, instead of making Gaza a flourishing territory growing strawberries, flowers and manufacturing textiles, Hamas took its population hostage, even when there were no hostilities, in complete contrast to what was going on in the West Bank. They then built themselves the terrorist facilities, and the rest is known.
In trying to solve this problem, we must remember that we undertook this latest military operation as a response to the threat to Israel’s civilian population and Israel as a country, as any country would. There were two kinds of threat: the rockets and the tunnels built with ingredients, such as cement, that Israel authorised the supply of. Instead of building houses, mosques, schools, hospitals and infrastructure in general, these were used by Hamas to build the tunnels.
We did crush the military capabilities of Hamas. Now we are into the next stage. At the end of this month of ceasefire, or during it, both sides will bring to the table their demands. I’d like to stress that the understandings reached in Cairo are not very different from previous understandings Hamas rejected. What we want to see is the people of Gaza being rehabilitated and the territory reconstructed on one hand, and demilitarisation, total demilitarisation, of the territory on the other.
Those two parts of the equation are completely linked. You cannot reconstruct and rehabilitate an area without making sure the ingredients for rehabilitation will not be used for future terrorism. This logic says the non-involved people of Gaza, those not actively involved in terrorism, deserve a better future. Similarly, Israelis on the other side of the border deserve terror-free quiet. When this logic is accepted, and with the right tools of implementation, it will still not solve the overall issue, but it will end the specific problem arising from Hamas taking over and making Gaza a terrorist stronghold. The will of the international community to understand that logic is essential.
It would need a political effort to compel Hamas to get rid of its ammunition stockpile.
Demilitarisation means bringing Gaza back to where it was to begin with. No weapons, no military capabilities whatsoever, beyond what was agreed to between Israel and the PLO in 1995. Very similar to what has been happening in the West Bank, but totally breached in Gaza. Till the Oslo II points are changed by future agreements, they must hold. Hamas is a terrorist organisation, there are international norms and mechanisms to ensure countries don’t cooperate with terrorists. There are the post-9/11 UNSC resolutions, particularly 1373. Those countries and organisations that cooperate with terrorism breach these norms.
Will Israel lift the ‘economic blockade’ in the near future? If it does, will that stop Hamas from constructing tunnels in future?
The word “blockade” with regard to Gaza sounds good as an argument. But despite the hostilities, despite the fact that Israel was under attack, the crossing points were open and merchandise went in. When we talk of “blockade” as a concept, let’s remember that the electricity of Gaza was supplied, and is supplied, by Israel all the time. Humanitarian, and more than just humanitarian, aid went in. Given the problematic situation Gaza found itself in — that Hamas is responsible for — we must remember there was no humanitarian crisis as such all the time. So I am uneasy with the definition of “blockade”. About the opening of the crossings, which was supposedly part of the Cairo understanding, the fact is that those crossing points were open all the time.
Does Mahmoud Abbas have a future? He seems to have once more proved his utility and regained some popularity in Gaza.
This conflict, and the last stage during the conflict, has shown that the Palestinian Authority has a role, during and after the negotiations, in the challenge of bringing Gaza to where it should have been — a prosperous and peaceful piece of land, not a terrorist stronghold. So Abbas and the Palestinian leadership that doesn’t see terrorism as the way forward but negotiations, have a role. And the leader of those Palestinians at this stage is Abbas. Abbas, personally, and what he represents have a role in the next stage of the Israel-Gaza relationship.
I would also like to point out that Israel, from the beginning, has said that Egyptian mediation is very important. At the end of the day, we came to the negotiating table saying, look how instrumental the Egyptians have been in all this!