“The two-State solution is the only solution which is possible,” says Ambassador T. S. Tirumurti

Former Permanent Representative of India to the United Nations, Ambassador T. S. Tirumurti: PHOTO: T. S. Tirumurti

Ambassador T.S. Tirumurti, a seasoned Indian diplomat who was the first Indian Representative to the then Palestinian Authority in Gaza in the 1990s, and served in important diplomatic posts over a career spanning 37 years in the Indian Foreign Service, gave an exclusive interview to News India Times, about the ongoing bloody conflict between Israel and Hamas. He retired in June 2022.

Notably, he served as Ambassador/Permanent Representative of India to the United Nations (UN) in New York between 2020-2022. During his tenure, he presided over the UN Security Council as its President in August 2021 and chaired Taliban Sanctions Committee, Libyan Sanctions Committee, and Counter-terrorism Committee of the Security Council. He also served as the Secretary in the Ministry of External Affairs handling the Economic Relations portfolio between 2018-2020, which included, inter alia, Gulf and the Arab World and Africa, and India’s development partnership.

Additionally, he served in various capacities at Indian Missions in Geneva, Switzerland; Washington DC, USA; Jakarta, Indonesia; Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; and in Cairo, Egypt (where he earned his diploma in Arabic language).

Q: You served as the India’s first Representative to the Palestine Authority in 1996 and lived in Gaza for a span of two years. Could you share insights into the first Mission that you established?

Ans: Yes, I had opened the first Indian Representative Office to the Palestinian Authority in Gaza in 1996. Living in the midst of Palestinians, one could see the immense difficulties they were undergoing under occupation, especially in refugee camps in one of the most densely populated areas of the world without some basic facilities. I knew Arabic and could hence converse with them and got to understand their plight. They had to depend on the Israelis for almost everything including work. The UNRWA [UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East] also supported them with food, shelter, medicines and even education for children. But the Gazans were living at the mercy of someone or the other all the time, never in-charge of their lives leave alone destiny. However, signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993 between Israelis and Palestinians gave rise to optimism, even hope, that the Palestinians would see a better future and somewhere down the line they could aspire for a State. That was not to be, as events have proved from time to time.

Q: You have extensive experience working on Arab World issues and even had cordial relations with the first President of Palestinian National Authority, late Yasser Arafat, who signed the Oslo Accords that offered a glimpse of optimism for Palestinian statehood. Three decades later, why does the prospect of statehood remain an elusive aspiration?

Ans: It is clear that when any territory is occupied, the upper hand is always with the occupier. Consequently, the onus was on Israel to honor the agreement they had made with the Palestinians in 1993 and 1995. Further, the onus was also on the those who had stood guarantee like the US and also on some Gulf countries and neighbors for making sure that these agreements are adhered to. And the responsibility was also on the Palestinian Authority to make sure that they check those elements who can endanger the security of Israel and not disturb peace. None of these things came together to reach that critical mass where they could make the Oslo Accords into a reality on the ground and in their negotiations.

Things started deteriorating rapidly when Israel had leaders who didn’t believe in Palestinian Statehood and took steps to make its realization more difficult. As such, neighbors and interested countries started establishing business-as-usual relations with Israel at the cost of the Palestinian cause. Also, Palestinians themselves became divided between the militants in Gaza and the moderates in the West Bank making it weaker to pursue their quest for Statehood. In effect, every avenue for hope was killed and the Palestinian issue was being gradually erased from serious international discourse.

Q: Could you please explain what you mean by “Land for Peace” formula and how it became “People for Peace” on the ground? What provoked Hamas to carry out these unprecedented attacks now?

Ans: “Land for Peace” formula flows from the UN Security Council Resolution 242, which is widely regarded as the basis for Israel-Palestine settlement. The first operative paragraph of that resolution establishes two inter-linked principles which are withdrawal of Israeli forces from occupied territories (Land) and termination of all claims or states of belligerency and establishing sovereignty, territorial integrity, and political independence of every State (Peace).

When the Oslo Accords were implemented on the ground, instead of withdrawing from occupied territories (as the UN Security Council resolution demands), the Palestinian Authority was given only over those territories where Palestinians were living in large numbers effectively making it “People for Peace” rather than “Land for Peace.”

Nothing can justify a terror attack on Israel by Hamas. Let me make that clear. India has believed in zero tolerance for terror. But it’s difficult when one starts pretending that Palestinian Statehood is not important, escalating violence around holy sites and the West Bank, and implementing unilateral measures such as the expansion of settlements in the occupied West Bank. Also, there is ultra-nationalist government on the Israeli side and divided Palestinian groups on the other side – all these form a potent mix for a conflagration in the region.

Q: India continues to uphold strong diplomatic and bilateral ties with Israel and actively supports a two-State solution to foster peace between Israel and Palestine. As President of the United Nations (UN) Security Council in August 2021, who addressed concerns of the Middle East, do you still believe a two-State solution remains a viable path forward?

Ans: The two-State solution is the only solution which is possible. That’s why we need to make it viable. There is no One-State solution since that effectively means a No-State solution. In 1988, India became one of the first countries to recognize Palestine as a State. We have, since, consistently stood for a Two-State solution and called for direct negotiations between the two sides. I have myself reiterated this in the UN Security Council, especially since the Palestinian issue is discussed in the Council on a monthly basis.

Q: Considering the volatile situation in the world’s most densely populated Gaza, international organizations such as UN calls it impossible to move more than 1 million people from the Northern Gaza in a short period. What challenges might UN encounter in coordinating humanitarian initiatives in the region?

Ans: What is unfolding is not just a humanitarian disaster but also a political and human disaster. We should not obfuscate the nature of the disaster that is currently unfolding in Gaza. We should not pretend that Palestinian people in Gaza are somehow complicit in the terror attacks and equate the terror attack with the Palestinians in Gaza or the Palestinian cause, thereby justifying the disaster that is unfolding in Gaza. Palestinians living in Gaza are human beings with families and children, and hope and sentiments, like you and me and the American people. They cannot be treated as “collateral casualties.”



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