NEW DELHI: In the process of experiencing the richness of culture, diversity and religious heritage, former Indian Ambassador Anil Trigunayat recently visited Jordan and Israel, interacting with various pastors, missionaries and Rabbis. Along with other dignitaries from Australia and France, he also met HRH Prince Hassan at the Royal Interfaith Studies Institute, Amman to further work upon promoting convergence of various faiths, a Unity Earth initiative.

His trip to Jerusalem in particular, reveals the insightful political developments, policy changes and the realist interpretation of India’s foreign policy with regards to Israel-Palestine peace process. While speaking to The Citizen, Ambassador Anil discussed the following points:

1) How politically sensitive is Jerusalem now?

Jerusalem is very sensitive due to the mistrust between Jews and Muslims and especially, right now it’s even more due to the shifting of the American embassy, de-facto, recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. All other embassies are essentially in Tel Aviv although all foreign ministries and government bodies are located in Jerusalem. So, every ambassador has to come to Jerusalem in any case. The Parliament, the Knesset and Prime Minister’s House are also located in West Jerusalem. Though, the new US embassy used to initially be the American consulate, the same building used to look after Palestine from there. It has caused a lot more problems. Now, with the Gaza issue, the situation is more tension. Though during this visit, I did not see a much heightened tension in Jerusalem in spite of the developments. Maybe they have secured the borders very well. As we all know, the Israeli security is fool-proof, so they must have applied all kinds of ways so that people don’t feel the underlying tension. I did not find any alarming movement. Yes, whenever there’s a Muslim name, the person is subjected to greater checks.

2) Was it because of the diplomatic passport?

No, I surrendered my diplomatic passport and travel on the ordinary one. But we didn’t have any restriction on the visa which allowed free movement. Also, there is great respect for Indians there; hence, you don’t feel that the security is going to victimize you.

3) What’s the solution for this conflict, if any?

The UNSC resolutions need to be respect. Both the sides need to talk. In my own view, the Arab world needs to come clean, their divergent lines weakens their position. The US is playing a disruptive issue that has spurted the whole mess. Of course, this is a win for Israeli. But at the same time, fighting will not help. As you know, the King of Jordan is also the custodian of Al Aqsa mosque, so in the changing status of Jerusalem, they will have a major stake and legitimacy. In the current situation, I don’t have much faith. Though the Trump government says they have a Middle East Plan, but we don’t know what the plan really is. If the plan was to divide Jerusalem, it was already so. I believe every side really wants India to play a bigger role in this.

4) Do you think India can play a larger role, especially how India’s foreign policy is aligning more with Israel?

That’s exactly why we can talk with Israel. We have established diplomatic relations with Israel and at that time, I used to meet Yasser Arafat and it was seen as a good move. We have been telling Israelis what is right. On Jerusalem right now, we took the right step and it was before the trip to Netanyahu to India. If we start working on the UNSC resolutions and Oslo Accords, things will move. But right now, there is so much of trust deficit and myopic actions.

5) What are the weaknesses of the Palestinian leadership?

The Palestinians need to unite, especially Hamas. They need to put their own house in order. If they don’t, they will continue to have problems against very powerful states. Even the Arab world is divided now. Perhaps, they have realized the futility of it over 70 years.

6) But India’s foreign policy keeps shifting between Israel and Palestine. Isn’t it very lop-sided?

No, it’s very balanced. India believes any relationship which is in India’s interest, should be pursued. From the standpoint of long-standing policy with regard to Palestine, we have realized that India was not in the position to bring Middle East process. We have been giving Palestine capacity building support and we continue to do so, despite our proximity to Israel.

7) Aren’t we too dependent on Israel, in terms of technology?

Yes, we are dependent because we don’t produce it ourselves. We can witness the same pattern with our dependence on Russia. That is our internal problem. We don’t have the comparative advantage.

8) What’s the reason behind our lack of research and development?

We have DRDO and private sector involved in defense development, but wherever we have the possibility of development, we haven’t backed it well, except BRAHMOS. We have big companies and we are heavily dependent on the public sector.

9) Why did PM Modi wait for so long before visiting Israel?

Even when PM Modi was Chief Minister in Gujarat, he had several investments from Israel. So, everybody expected that he should visit Israel. But then we judged our policies and their long-standing impact. We have to look at strategic interest in West Asia, our diasporas, oil interests, too. If we would have gone immediately, it would have gone a wrong signal to the Arab world. So, he went to UAE first. Our relations with the Saudis, Qataris and Emiratis have developed. The success of his foreign policy is that we have become closer to all the countries in the Arab world.

10) But in the Arab world, there is anti-India coverage.

Anti-India coverage had always been there. It’s not the reality. You have to deal with the state and the people. PM Modi had de-hyphenated the policy between Israel and Palestine. We stand alone. That’s why he went separately to Israel and separately to Palestine. He didn’t mix the two. When I was the Ambassador in Jordan, we made the first Presidential visit of Pranab Mukherjee in 2015, first to Jordan, then to Palestine and then to Israel. Even Sushma Swaraj went that way. Now, when PM Modi was going to Israel, we had the Palestinian President visiting India that time. This shows that since India has close relations with both Israel and Palestine, India can play a much more significant role now.

11) Do you think Oslo Accords can be implemented?

Yes, that’s the very basis. Oslo Accords and the UNSC resolution 242. Both sides had agreed. There are five pillars of Middle East Peace Process.

12) How is Abbas as a Palestinian leader?

Well, Abbas is a fine leader. If Jerusalem issue is talked upon, we can’t expect Palestinians to be quiet, both politically and religiously. It’s normal to protest. But then, Palestinians also have to contain their extremist elements.

13) What’s your understanding of Jared Kushner as a mediator?

Well, nobody understands Middle East better than the Israelis, the Palestinians and the Arabs. Others are simply meddling in their internal affairs. If America really wanted to solve problem, it would have been solved. But they all play games. So far Trump is just fulfilling the promises that he made and mentioned. During the time of Obama, it was difficult for Netanyahu but he still went ahead and addressed the Congress. In US, the Jewish lobby is the strongest. When it comes to the question of Israel, AIPAC and 300 odd organizations come together. They control most of the financial institutions, banks and industries.

14) How is Hamas perceived by the West?

The West needs to come clear about their philosophy. Either they can support democracy or be against it. Hamas democratically won in 2006 but they were not allowed to continue.

15) What’s the practical negotiation possible for this conflict?

Well, the major players like Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan need to be involved. Even Russia, taking into account its stronghold in Middle East. But the key players need to stop fighting amongst themselves.