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New Delhi: Asserting that India’s policy on the Palestine issue remains unchanged, the government on Monday refused to take sides over the Gaza conflict as it said Israel and Palestine should have peace talks and forestalled a resolution in Rajya Sabha which was demanded by the opposition.

External affairs minister Sushma Swaraj said the House should not be divided but send out a joint message that wherever there is violence, it is condemnable and both Israel and Palestine should accept Egypt’s offer of peace talks.

She was replying to a short-duration debate on the Gaza situation, during which the opposition condemned the violence in Gaza, pressed for the adoption of a resolution, demanded suspension of all military purchases from Israel and wanted India to raise the issue at the UN.

Rejecting the opposition’s demand for a resolution, deputy chairman of Rajya Sabha P.J. Kurien said Rule 176, under which the discussion took place does not provide for a resolution or motion of any kind. Besides, he pointed out that the government was not agreeable to a resolution or motion of any kind and there was no consensus, because of which he could do nothing.

Almost the entire opposition, which had stalled the House last week by pressing for a discussion on the issue, was unhappy as none of the demands was met and staged a walkout. The Biju Janata Dal (BJD), however, did not join them.

Earlier, responding point-by-point to the issues raised by opposition members during the debate, Swaraj asserted that the country’s policy on Palestine remains unchanged and attacked the opposition for casting aspersions on the Narendra Modi government.

“There is absolutely no change in India’s policy towards Palestine, which is that we fully support the Palestinian cause while maintaining good relations with Israel," the minister said and emphasised that this policy has been in vogue through various governments including those of the Congress, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and coalition governments headed by Deve Gowda and I.K. Gujral.

She also rejected the demand by some opposition parties that India should stop purchase of military equipment from Israel.

The minister rejected the contention of leader of opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad that India had been late in reacting to the Gaza violence as the debate was not allowed to take place last week.

Swaraj said while the debate had been listed in the House on 16 July, India had already given its reaction on the matter a day earlier in the joint statement of BRICS attended by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the Brazilian city of Fortaleza.

Noting that relations with Israel had improved over the last few years while India maintained strong support to the Palestine cause, the external affairs minister said “There is no change in this policy in Narendra Modi’s government, nor during Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s time. NDA (National Democratic Alliance) was for five years while Congress for 10 years. Even the coalition governments followed the same policy."

Taking the attack to the Congress camp, Swaraj said India had established diplomatic relations with Israel in 1992 during the P.V. Narasimha Rao government.

While deftly opposing any resolution as demanded by the opposition, she said “You are asking for a resolution. But does the rule under which the discussion is taking place provide for any resolution? It does not provide for any resolution, motion or voting."

To justify her contention, she cited a ruling by chairman Hamid Ansari. Kurien also went by her contention.

“So what should be done? There should be one joint message that wherever there is violence, it should be condemned. We should tell both the nations—Israel and Palestine—to accept Egypt’s offer of talks. The same message should go from this House, the government and the entire nation," the minister said.

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