New Delhi: Palestine has recalled its ambassador to Pakistan after India termed it “unacceptable” that the diplomat shared a stage with 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks mastermind Hafiz Saeed at a rally on Jerusalem in Rawalpindi.
On Saturday, Palestinian ambassador to India Adnan Mohammad Jaber Abualhayjaa was summoned to the Ministry of External Affairs where secretary (economic relations) Vijay Gokhale issued him a demarche.
Speaking to The Wire after his visit to the external affairs ministry, Abualhayjaa said that the Palestinian ambassador to Pakistan has been asked to “come back home”. “He won’t be ambassador to Pakistan anymore,” he said.
On Friday, the Palestinian ambassador to Pakistan Walid Abu Ali had addressed a rally organised by the Difa-e-Pakistan council, an umbrella group of Islamist organisations, at Rawalpindi to protest US President Donald Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. He was seen sitting next to Hafiz Saeed and exchanging a few words with him at the rally.
The external affairs ministry’s press release said that India “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”.
This was conveyed not just to the Palestinian ambassador, but also directly to the Palestinian minister of foreign affairs and expatriates Riyad Al-Maliki in Ramallah.
According to the external affairs ministry, the Palestinians “conveyed deep regrets” and “assured the government of India that they are taking serious cognizance of their ambassador’s presence at this event”.
The official Indian statement did not mention that the Palestinian diplomat was being recalled, but just reported that “they have said they will deal with this matter appropriately”.
According to the MEA’s press release, the Palestinian side assured India that Palestine “stands with us in the war against terrorism, and will not engage with those who commit acts of terror against India”.
“We take note of the assurances given by the Palestine side,” the external affairs ministry said.
Palestinian ambassador to India Abualhayja asserted that Walid Abu Ali did not know Hafiz Saeed’s identity when he met him. “He did not know him. He did not shake hands with him,” said Abualhayjaa. He added that relations with India continue to be excellent and highly-valued. “If there are any wrinkles, these are managed diplomatically,” he said.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is scheduled to visit India in the first half of January 2018. This will be followed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi stopping in Palestine on his foreign tour.
Later in the day, the Palestinian foreign ministry also issued a statement formally announcing the recall of its ambassador to Pakistan.
In a statement first published in Arabic, the spokesperson for the Palestinian foreign ministry said that Palestine was keen to maintain good relations with India, as well as support the latter’s war against terrorism.
Stating that the two countries are “real partners in the war on terror”, the Palestinian foreign ministry appreciated India’s position on Palestine and its “honourable position” in the UNGA resolution of December 21.
“On the basis of the principled and firm Palestinian position, 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 is an unintended mistake, but not justified,” said the statement.
It said that the Palestine foreign minister “under the direct instructions of the president of the State of Palestine to recall the Palestinian ambassador to Pakistan immediately”.
Thereafter, Pakistan waded into the controversy with a late night statement, which defended the recalled Palestinian envoy. “The people and government of Pakistan respect the Palestinian ambassador’s active participation in events organised to express solidarity with the people of Palestine,” said the press release issued by Pakistan foreign office.
The statement noted that there had been a number of public rallies and meetings in Pakistan following the US decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, in which the Palestinian ambassador had participated.
“The public meeting held yesterday was yet another demonstration of the Pakistani strong sentiments in support of the Palestinian cause. This public rally was attended by thousands of people from all walks of life. More than 50 speakers addressed the rally, including Hafiz Saeed,” it said.
Specifically defending Saeed’s presence, the Pakistan foreign office said, “Contrary to the impression being created, UN proscription does not place any restrictions on the freedom of expression”.
Solidarity group condemns ambassador
Earlier on Saturday, the India-Palestine Solidarity Forum issued a statement to “condemn the Palestinian Ambassador for sharing the stage with hardcore terrorist Hafiz Saeed”.
In the statement issued before the Palestinian ambassador was summoned, the IPSF demanded that the Palestinian government should “sack the Palestinian ambassador to Pakistan for sharing a platform with Hafiz Saeed, an internationally reviled and known hardcore terrorist”.
The organisation said that the Palestinian envoy’s participation was more outrageous as India had voted in favour in the UN for Palestine.
“The fact that this reprehensible act comes soon after the historic UN General Assembly vote where the government of India stood by Palestine and negated President Trump’s declaration on Jerusalem is even more shocking,” the statement read.
India had voted for the resolution passed on December 21 in the UN General Assembly, where 127 countries had called on the status-quo to be maintained in Jerusalem as per UN Security Council resolutions. The US had not been mentioned by name, but the target of the resolution was unmistakable.
Pointing out that India has always voted consistently in favour of Palestine, the IPSF warned, “Thus any such unprincipled actions on the part of the Palestinian representatives, will only damage the cause of the liberation of Palestine in their courageous struggle against the colonial occupation by apartheid Israel”.
In a statement, the co-founder of the BDS international campaign, Omar Barghouti, welcomed the recall of Ambassador Walid Abu Ali and demanded that he be held accountable.
“The Palestinian BDS National Committee (BNC), the largest coalition in Palestinian society, condemns, on principle, the fanatic ideology and criminal acts attributed to Hafiz Saeed,” said Barghouti.
He said condemned the sharing of stage of Hafiz Saeed by any Palestinian official, describing it as “an act that contradicts our people’s principled commitment to universal human rights and democracy and undermines the decades-long friendship between the Indian people and the people of Palestine”.
Welcoming Abu Ali’s recall, Barghouti stated, “It is imperative to not let the right-wing, pro-Israel, pro-militarisation lobby in India exploit what happened in Rawalpindi as remotely representative of the Palestinian people and our values”.