Palestine issue

Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas is in India. Remember Yasser Arafat’s momentous visit in 1980?

Yasser Arafat and Indira Gandhi had a close political relationship.

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Ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Israel in July, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas arrived in India on Sunday. During the meeting, Modi told Abbas that India hoped for a sovereign, independent, united Palestine and supported its cause.

While India is building a relationship with Israel, the country has had a long relationship with the founder and chief of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), Yasser Arafat, who has made numerous visits. When he was still vilified as a terrorist, India allowed Arafat’s organisation to open an office in New Delhi.

Arafat was said to have had a close personal rapport with former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, and called her his “sister”. According to an Al Jazeera report, “When Gandhi was assassinated a few months later by her bodyguards in New Delhi, a shocked Arafat wept in public.” Some months before her assassination, Gandhi had visited Arafat’s headquarters in Tunis.

The video above documents Arafat’s two-day visit to New Delhi shortly after full diplomatic recognition had been granted to the PLO. The Associated Press reported that Arafat was given a warm welcome, and “a large crowd of students, chanting pro-PLO slogans, had gathered outside the Palestinian office in New Delhi to cheer him on as he arrived for a press conference at the end of his visit.”

India has been one of the strongest supporters of the Palestinian cause outside the Arab world, with Mahatma Gandhi being one of the first to express kinship. “My sympathies are with the Jews...but my sympathy does not blind me to the requirements of justice,” he wrote in 1938. “Palestine belongs to the Arabs in the sense that England belongs to the English or France to the French.”

However, India’s establishing full diplomatic relations with Israel in 1992, and a more staunch pro-Israel stance in recent years has diluted that view somewhat.

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