The Vajpayee government has pushed a grossly partisan agenda by inviting Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to visit India. The significance of Mr. Sharon's presence in India on September 11 is obvious, "in-your-face": the pro-Hindutva government wants to underscore its solidarity with his "fight against terrorism".
This is morally and politically appalling. As we see below, Mr. Sharon is himself guilty of terrorism - against the Palestinian people. All sensible citizens must insist that the Sharon visit is cancelled.
To demand this is not to support anti-Semitism or to condone Hamas-style indiscriminate violence against Israeli citizens. Rather, it is to apply a consistent standard in dealing with the Palestine-Israel conflict.
Such a standard isn't visible in the Vajpayee government's awkward attempt to "balance" its tilt towards Israel by inviting Palestinian foreign minister Nabil Sha'ath. This looks like terribly clumsy afterthought.
India's invitation to Mr. Sharon is exceptional, even abnormal. Amidst Israel's war on the occupied territories, most nations wouldn't dignify Mr. Sharon. He certainly won't be welcome in continental Europe.
There are three reasons for this. First, his Right-wing Likud party always takes an extremist stand against Palestinian nationhood. Second, he deserves to be tried as a war criminal for the Sabra and Chatilla massacres of 1982. And third, he represents the biggest obstacle even in the Washington-brokered Israel-friendly Road Map to peace.
Israel was created in 1948 to right a historic wrong - the expulsion and persecution of the Jews. But this wrongfully deprived the Palestinians of 78 percent of the land under the earlier British Mandate.
In the 1967 War, Israel took over even the rest: the West Bank along the Jordan River, Gaza along the Mediterranean, and East Jerusalem. They have since been under military occupation. Likud justifies the occupation in the name of Biblical-era "Greater Israel".
Over 400,000 Israelis have illegally settled in the occupied territories. This settlement violates international law. Article 49 of the 4th Geneva Convention prohibits an occupying power from transferring any part of its civilian population into the occupied territory.
The occupation has been declared illegal by numerous Security Council resolutions. Israel has done nothing to vacate it thanks to the protection it receives from the US.
The Palestinians have fought determinedly against the occupation. For years, they refused to recognize Israel as a moral-legal entity. But in 1988, in a huge compromise, the Palestinian National Council voted for a two-state solution, with Palestine having only the 22 percent land. The Palestinians want peace, dignity and the right for refugees to return.
Likud strongly opposes a two-state solution, although a majority of Israelis don't want to hold on to the occupied territories. The first uprising or intifadah (1988-93) led to the Oslo "peace" process. But the PLO came to the table in a weak position. The Oslo process was an unmitigated disaster. Israel cheated even on its far-from-heavy commitments.
Mr. Sharon has blood on his hands. As defense minister in 1982, he launched an unprovoked war on Lebanon (where the PLO had taken refuge), killing 17,000 civilians. In September 1982, he arranged for the Phalangist Christian militia to enter the Sabra and Chatilla refugee camps near Beirut, and butcher 2,000-3,000 people.
The area was then fully under Israeli control. Israel ignored even the US ambassador's pleas: "You must stop the massacres. They are obscene ...They are killing children. You are in absolute control of the area and therefore responsible ..."
A high-level inquiry held that Mr. Sharon failed to take basic precautions to protect innocent civilians; "these blunders constitute the non-fulfillment of a duty." A 2001 BBC documentary "The Accused" contains details of Mr. Sharon's disgraceful role. He must be tried for war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Third, Mr. Sharon's recent role has been extremely negative. He provoked the second intifadah through his walk in September 2000 on a holy site in East Jerusalem.
Following this, Israel ruthlessly escalated its repression and pursued targeted assassinations, by relying on tanks, helicopter gunships, laser-guided weapons, and F-16s.
Mr. Sharon's hardline policy led to the ceasefire's collapse on August 21.
As for the Road Map, Mr. Sharon did his best to delay its publication, and has since tried to sabotage it by raising 14 objections. The Map is tilted in Israel's favor. But Mr. Sharon is loath to grant statehood to Palestine by 2005 as the Map demands.
Israel routinely commits massive human rights violations. Its Shin Bet agency has admitted to detaining Palestinian prisoners for weeks at a secret center in violation of international law. The blindfolded prisoners are kept in black, windowless cells. Of their whereabouts, they are told: "on the moon."
Mr. Sharon's most despicable recent move is to build a high wall between Israel and the West Bank. The 8-metre-high "Apartheid" or "Berlin" Wall will be 650 km-long, compared to the 3.6-metre-high, 155 km-long original.
Israel is moving towards semi-apartheid. Its parliament has passed a law that would force Palestinians marrying Israelis to live separate lives or leave Israel. Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza who marry Israeli Arabs will be barred from obtaining Israeli residence permits.
This cruelly mocks at "pluralism, tolerance and equal opportunity"- virtues which India's National Security Adviser Brajesh Mishra sees as common between the US, India and Israel! Mr. Mishra advocates their joint axis to combat terrorism.
This dangerous proposal is inspired by the Sangh Parivar's demonized perception of Islam. The Parivar admires Israel's militarized society and anti-Arab policies in which it sees a reflection of its anti-Muslim prejudice.
The Vajpayee government is bringing ignominy upon itself by honoring Mr. Sharon. It is reneging on India's long-standing commitment to decolonization, Palestinian nationhood, and peace in West Asia-North Africa.
Such betrayal of India's own agenda certainly won't go down well with the public. The public must speak up.
Praful Bidwai is an eminent Indian columnist.
Even now, any peace initiatives with Pakistan have occurred, not due to any desire of Pakistanis (see their public polls- about 70% support Musharraf's kargil initiative even after all the peace delegations have been through in recent days) but due to pressures brought by the current world situation and the writing on the wall about likley interference of US to the detriment of both Pakistan and India. Some Pakistanis I have spoken to feel that even if they loose Kashmir along with India, they wont mind so much. Many don't even care about US intereference any more. Reasons can be that they will have a more secure supply of river waters and a psychological satisfaction of breaking India after all these years of effort.
We in India did nothing all these years except believe in peace, non-interference in other's
affairs and constantly extending the hand of friendship to all and sundry. Enough time has been spent experimenting with idealistic theories. We still live with violence and
terrorism. Now its time to take aggressive steps rather than project a passive image of a country that does not have a strategy to deal with its serious problems other than simply hoping that passage of time will cause the problems to go away.
Hence inviting Sharon is not such a bad idea as it sends appropriate signals to the troublemakers that we are now going to pursue an active policy of collaborating with whoever can help us. Even if we did not invite Sharon, China will continue to arm Pakistan. Arab countries and US will continue to vaccillate on terrorism. There is nothing to loose by inviting Sharon but something to gain.
Having said all this, I do not mind India taking a leadership role in peace and continue showing the way of peace and friendship to those who have trouble understanding these concepts. But there is nothing wrong in pursuing an economic and defence relationship with Israel.
Hence I don't see anything wrong in inviting Sharon. He may have been overtly agresssive but then any peace with the arab world is going to be only temporary given many of their brethren's predisposition to violence and long term committment to destroy Israel. Israel is surrounded by its enemies who have had a history of attacking Israel 1st. We in India should understand Israel given the numerous attacks on us by Pakistan inspite of us being nice to it in every possible way.I often feel that India and Israel are in similar situations. Just like we have learnt a lesson not to trust the Pakistanis or the Chinese, the Israeli's have also learnt a similar lesson. Hence arriving at a peace agreement in Middel East is not quite possible. Many Jews believe that once they give in, they will enter into a irreversible situation and the militant Islamists will still continue their struggle and may actually become more powerful enemies by aquiring dangerous weapons. Just like our Pakistan! We gave into Pakistan everytime, even when they attacked us. What is the reward- today they are threatening us with use of nuclear weapons.
Be that as it may, Prof Bidawi is mistaken on several issues. (1) Mr. sharon is not a war-criminal. The massacres committed in Sabra and Chatilla were undertaken by Lebanese Christian militias. Perhaps the assaissinated Elie Hobeika, the chief architect of these massacres, was about to reveal the names of his colleagues and other Lebanese Government figures behind the murders. (2)There is no law that states a State has to take in all and sundry. There is no open-door policy for immigrants to India, for instance. Should we condemn India for this? Israeli Arabs who wish to marry Palestinians in the territories are free to move there in order to effect family reunification (3) The so called "apartheid wall" has been brought about by the Palestinian folly of suicide-bombings. Every State is entitled to pursue a policy that protects its citizens in the most efficent way possible. Prof Bidawi appears to have forgotten that amongst the vitims of those bombings have been ordinary Israeli Arabs. (4) The fence is far from original. One such wall divides the two Koreas and has the blessing of the UN. Another buffer zone, complete with mine-fields, separates Greek Cypriots from Turkish Cypriots and Turkish settlers from the mainland. This also has the blessing of the UN. I might remind Prof Badawi that Turkey has been in illegal occupation of 40% of the island of Cyprus for 28 years.
India should and must allow this visit to go ahead. And could we have less hypocrisy from the Professor Badawis of this world.
So, don't put much importance to the visit. It is just symbolic. After all, India gave red carpet treatment to Musharaff at Agra. Everybody knows the result of that.
Gandhi must be spinning in his grave.