Saturday, August 26, 2000,
Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

India treads neutral path
Back peace, urges Peres
From T.R. Ramachandran
Tribune News Service

NEW DELHI, Aug 25 — India today steered clear of taking sides and affirmed its support to the West Asia peace process which has been deadlocked because of the tough stand taken by Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) on the status of East Jerusalem.

Realising that New Delhi wanted to tread carefully without hurting the susceptibilities of either the Jewish state or the PLO, Israel’s powerful regional Cooperation Minister Shimon Peres impressed upon India to take the side of peace.

Even though the Arab world views India’s expanding ties with Israel to its detriment, New Delhi has endeavoured to dispel such fears by adopting an approach which does not dampen the “long-standing relations with all countries of the region.”

The former Prime Minister of Israel and a Nobel laureate, Mr Peres provided an escape route for New Delhi by stating that “we don’t want one-sided support of India at the cost of the Palestinians.”

Mr Peres, who arrived here yesterday to apprise the Indian leadership about the botched up Camp David peace process and Tel Aviv’s views in carrying forward the dialogue with the PLO, disfavoured the unilateral declaration of an independent state of Palestine on September 13.

“It is not a holy date,” he observed. The declaration of Palestinian statehood could be made later. A somewhat frustrated PLO appeared inclined in postponing the declaration by a few months but certainly not beyond this year, he said. He hoped that the West Asia problem would be resolved before the end of Mr Bill Clinton’s tenure in the White House as “time was running out.”

Clearly there was realisation among the discriminating Israeli leadership that Tel Aviv could not drag its feet on Palestinian statehood indefinitely. Mr Peres emphasised “we want to conclude an agreement (on contentious issues) while Mr Clinton is in office. We have great respect for Mr Clinton for his role in the talks.”

He was quick to bring to the fore that “in a peace process nothing great happens overnight. You must be patient. We will have a solution,” he added, which was a clear pointer to Israel willing to take certain hard decisions provided the Palestinians responded in equal measure.

Replying to a question, Mr Peres said if PLO leader Yasser Arafat made a unilateral declaration of Palestinian statehood, it would have a “limited impact on the peace process.”

He felt it did not make sense for countries to accord recognition to Palestine a second time when they had already done so a decade or so back. He mentioned the case of China in this regard and conveniently left out India which had also accorded recognition soon after the Palestinians independence in Algiers on November 15, 1988.

Explaining the bone of contention between Israel and the PLO, Mr Peres said it was 800 sq mt of land in Jerusalem. The old city was being claimed by Christians, Muslims and Jews alike. He agreed the land was not much but “there is an underlying commitment, sentiment and history attached to it.”

He said he had come to India not to complain about the Palestinians but to exhort the NDA leadership to build bridges of peace. India was an important voice in world affairs, especially in the West Asia peace process.

Mr Peres was forthright about Tel Aviv’s desire to forget the enmity of the past when he said in a forthright manner that “Israel has goodwill for the Palestinian people and we want them to succeed.”

The visit of Mr Peres as Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak’s special envoy assumes importance as it comes close on the heels of Mr Arafat’s breezy trip to India during his whistle-stop global tour to drum up support for the Palestinian declaration.

Mr Peres, who has already visited China, Japan and Indonesia is scheduled to return home on Sunday.

Mr Peres, who held discussions with Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee yesterday, called on President K.R. Narayanan in the forenoon. He also held wide-ranging talks with Union Home Minister L.K. Advani, Union Defence Minister George Fernandes and Union External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh during the course of the day.

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