The Science of Where Magazine meets Anil Trigunayat, Distinguished Fellow at the Vivekananda International Foundation, former Ambassador of India to Jordan, Libya and Malta, Secretary of the Association of Indian Diplomats.
As you write in The Palestinian Dilemma, the upcoming elections in Palestine represent an important moment. How is the situation of the political movements involved and what are the current relations with Israel?
Yes 15 years is along time and the fact that the legislative and presidential elections in Palestine were called for May this year was a welcome development since the main politico-religious parties. Fatah & PLO in Ramallah and Hamas in Gaza had agreed to contest the elections and hopefully have a unity government, if possible. It will be recalled that last time in 2006, Hamas had won unexpectedly and the western countries and Israel refused to recognise and terming it as a terrorist organisation led to the estrangement of the Palestinian movement. This had also placed the fight for the Palestinian cause and the two State solution to the back burner. This time there are around 30 Lists of candidates in the fray and general public seemed more enthusiastic even if they felt that with regard to their independent state resolution may still be slow and painful.
However as Israel has not given the permission for the vote to take place in East Jerusalem and other occupied territories the elections have been postponed by the ageing President Abbas. He is 86 and facing internal dissensions in his own party. Already splinter groups have emerged confronting and challenging Abbas’s authority. Some regional actors like UAE would like to see Mohammed Dahlan to take over who has been working to help Palestinians in Gaza and elsewhere during the pandemic. Hence the decision to postpone was also driven by Abbas’s personal politically uncertain situation. Palestinians are unhappy and fight and frequent strikes between Gaza and Israel continue leading to greater uncertainty. However , President Trump’s rabid decisions like de facto recognition of Jerusalem as capital of Israel ; giving Golan heights to Tel Aviv; insincere Deal of the Century; and accepting the illegal constructions in the West Bank created a greater mistrust among the Palestinians. But with the onset of President Biden there is some hope as he is trying to bring back the Palestinians on some kind of negotiations with Israel. Even Egypt has been trying to work on it. Relations between Palestine and Israel remain confrontational despite security cooperation between Ramallah and Tel Aviv and Qatar trying to defuse the situation between Gaza and Israel as far as pandemic and other assistance is concerned. Since after 4 elections in 2 years Israel still does not have a proper and stable government the situation has been further compounded by the hawkish approach of PM Benjamin Netanyahu who has just lost the chance to form yet another government. Hopefully the next government will take a more constructive approach for ensuring peace and security in the region.
The elections in Palestine must be contextualized in a very troubled phase, apart from the pandemic, for the Middle East. How would you explain to our readers the evolution of relations in that tormented and strategic area? What are the main global players involved? What role is Biden’s USA playing, and will it play?
Middle East itself has changed a great deal. Despite all the oddities rightly or wrongly President Trump was heavily engaged in the region. He considered Iran as a major threat and pulled out of the JCPOA Nuclear deal nearly causing a war in the region after killing IRGC Commander Gen Soleimani. But he was also working to bridge the differences between the Arabs and Israel. Hence the signing of the Abraham Accords between Israel, UAE and Bahrain and later with Sudan and Morocco paved the way for formal normalisation of ties. This also indicated that the Arab countries had developed a fatigue due to their own internal challenges and changing global dynamic. Hence the vehement support among the leadership of major West Asian countries for the Palestinian cause has been severely compromised. One only witnesses proforma reactions. This gives Tel Aviv a certain level of comfort which was evident when the key Arab countries asked Palestinian leaders to come to table under the aegis of the one sided “Deal of the Century’. It is a fact that much water has flown down the River Jordan. A splintered Palestinian establishment will find it difficult to contend with unified and strong state of Israel and the to address the injustices of Sykes-Picot Agreement despite the three wars and Camp David, Madrid or Oslo Agreements or for that matter the Saudi Arab initiative.
No serious effort has been made in last two decades. Now realising the eroding regional and international support Palestinians are hoping for an International Conference to be organised by President Biden and the Quartet with wide participation. Biden has shown inclination by reversing some of the decisions by Trump like extending significant financial assistance to UNRWA including to fight the pandemic and allowing the PA embassy in Washington DC. They have also expressed displeasure on Israeli settlements. Hence , it is imperative that US , still the major security provider in the region, takes the lead to bring the equitable resolution of the Palestinian issues since there is unlikely to be peace unless it is resolved.
You were Ambassador of India to Libya. How do you assess the evolution of the situation in that country?
Libya in my view has turned into another Iraq. External intervention under the garb of Responsibility to Protect (R2P) without any post regime change in 2011 has been disastrous. Scores of militias and multiple simultaneous governments and fight between Eastern and Western Libya were perpetrated and sustained by their regional and international benefactors. Libya is the single biggest failure of the international community. In fact while France, Egypt, UAE, Saudi Arabia and UK and Russia have been supporting General Haftar and the Tobruk government in exile, Turkey, Qatar and Italy have cast their lot with the Tripoli based government. Foreign forces and militias as well as role of General Haftar would be the key factors for future of Libya. However, post Berlin process and Tunisian Agreements, the installation of a Government of National Unity with the task of holding general elections on December 24, 2021 give some hope. Currently some movement between Egypt and Turkey is visible which might be helpful. I sincerely hope this time round the international community will rise to the occasion as a decade has been wasted for sheer complicity and negligence and myopic choices for geopolitical influence.
Finally, the global post-pandemic phase focuses on two major transitions: the digital one and the ecological one. From your point of view, also looking at the growth of inequalities and the need to safeguard the integrity of peoples, how would you draw the map of the world in the coming decades?
Corona Pandemic should be a good lesson for the humanity. Ofcourse geo-politics and geo-economics as well as big power rivalries can not be wished as multilateralism has taken a big hit due to unilateralism and lack of balance of power. New domains of competition will emerge as power dynamic and security matrix emerges. Even there is a threat of a Cold War 2.0 in a new Avatar which is looming large as an ambitious China embarks on its unsolicited journey to displace USA as a numero uno power at least in the economic and technological domain. Another techno-industrialisation train is on tracks within the AI driven IR 4.0 digital space. Many small and big powers are in the race. However, Covid has dampened the pace and the global economy has been badly hit. In my view 5 Hs are extremely important today – Hunger, Health, Hygiene, Habitat and Hitech. The world has to evolve and agree on a sanity quotient for the sake of humanity and accept that global challenges like Climate Change, Pandemic and Terrorism require a global standard and solidarity. We have to believe in one world since the other alternative will undermine the world itself.