India and the Israel- Palestine conflict

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We must all agree that the real evil is the year 2021 and not 2020 (well at least for Indians). The Covid wave was extremely lethal than what we saw in the year 2020 and the world was about to witness a war between two countries which have been enemies since their establishment (that’s just like India and Pakistan). A war was about to break out between Israel and Palestine (Hamas dominated Gaza Strip). Hamas fired thousands of rockets over Israeli cities while Israel unleashed its mighty military power over Gaza. The conflict is based on religious, geopolitical, historical factors. In short it’s just too complicated to be understood by a common man. Hours and hours of discussions and deliberations took place over this recent conflict at the UN. I am not going to comment on the conflict. I won’t give my opinions on who is/was right or who is wrong/oppressor. I am going to analyse India’s policy and its voting preferences at the UN over this conflict.

No sooner did the war break out than we Indians took sides on social media. Some had the Palestinian flag while some had the Israeli flag alongside their social media handles. Social media activism is really very funny. Unlike the popular expectation of giving an unparallel support to Israel, the Government of India adopted a very balanced approach. The statements and the voting preferences by India managed to disappoint Indians who have a very strong opinion on this subject matter (appeasement to none, disappointment to all as been the motto of the government of lately). History tells us than since 40 years, India has been neutral on this issue. India advocated for a “Strong Palestinian Cause” and a “Two Nation Solution” at the UNSC while it abstained to vote against Israel with respect to a resolution which aimed to set up a permanent commission to probe human right violations in Gaza, West Bank and Palestine in the recent conflict.

The question arises, why this double stand? Why can’t we be clear with our stance and just support one country? What made the Hindu nationalist government which, in recent years, has been a very close ally to Netanyahu, advocate a two nation theory? If they support Palestinians in the UNSC, why did India befriend Palestine in the UNHRC? Well just like I said before, this issue is too complex and for a country like India it’s not feasible to take one clear stance.

First considering the UNSC vote as it happened first. Literally all Indians expected that India would support Israel blindly. Main reasons being (a) the Indian and the Israeli government, in recent years, have adopted a non tolerant approach towards terrorism; (b) the bilateral relations between the nations are stronger than ever. Netanyahu had literally put up banners of Modi in Israel to seek votes in 2019; (c) Israel has always supported India in the latter’s steps to counter insurgency, militancy and terrorism. Israel has also helped us with its military technology.

In spite of these factors, what made India ignore Israel at the UNSC? Well international policies are not framed on emotional grounds. Various factors need to be taken into consideration. The Arab world and the members of the OIC (Organisation of Islamic Countries) have been extremely anti Israel. Many even refuse to recognise Israel as a nation. Keeping aside their enmity with Israel, members of the OIC (except Pakistan and Turkey) including the Arab world have been very considerate and friendly towards India. India cannot afford to compromise this friendship with OIC even for a bit because the compromise would affect the India’s trade with the Islamic world. 13% of India’s trade happens with the Muslim countries. Pakistan is constantly trying to build an anti-Muslim image of India in world politics but is unable to do so because it doesn’t enjoy the support of other strong Islamic countries. After 5th August 2019, this support from the Islamic nations has become more important than ever. Many Indians work in these Arab nations. If India shows it undying support to Israel, India will lose out on the trade, it would empower Pakistan more and it would risk the security of the Indians working in these nations. India, in no way, can support Israel’s act to colonise the West Bank because if it does, it would give Pakistan and China a leverage to stake claim over the land which they have occupied illegally in Kashmir and Ladakh. India consenting to Israel’s colonization would justify Pakistan’s and China’s act of capturing Indian territories. India has to see its interest first before it seeks justice for other countries. Would this affect India’s relations with Israel? The answer is a big ‘NO’. Not at all. India has always supported the Palestinians and the Palestinian state at the UN.

Now let’s consider India’s voting behaviour at UNHRC. Why did India abstain? Well it’s not for the first time India has abstained from voting against Israel at UNHRC. India did the same in 2015 and just like this time, India was sent a strong worded letter from the Palestinian government expressing their dissatisfaction. India’s abstention is crucial considering the Kashmir issue. Just like how Israel faces militancy/terrorism from Hamas, India deals with militancy/terrorism in Kashmir which is fostered by the Pakistanis. Israel has tried to justify the counter attack on the grounds of countering terrorism from Hamas. If India questions the attack by the Israeli forces, India would be questioned (with more intensity) for its counter terrorist activities in Kashmir and Pakistan. India has been called out many times at the UNHRC when it comes to Kashmir and definitely India would like to avoid more of such intense scrutiny. Thus neither condemning nor justifying the military actions of the Israeli forces, India decided to remain silent. Well this silence eventually did help the majority i.e. Palestine. The resolution was passed as they enjoyed the majority. It was Israel who badly needed India’s vote.

In 1948, when UN decided to form the state of Israel, India refused to recognise it. But over a period of time, with the efforts of Indira Gandhi, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, PV Narsimha Rao, Israel became an important ally. But none of them decided to give their undying support to Israel and refuse to recognise the state of Palestine. India has been subject to illegal occupation and thus in no way it can justify illegal occupation of other countries. At the same time India understands the importance of Israel as an ally. Israel has the military might, they excel in tech. After Silicon Valley, Tel Aviv is considered to be the Mecca for start-ups. India recognises and understands the potential which the Jewish nation possesses. In no way it will alienate that nation. After the Abraham Accords, even the Arab world has started to recognise Israel as a nation. Considering all this, on the face value, India will continue to maintain a balanced approach on the Israel and Palestine conflict at international forums. However things might be very different internally.

– By Manav Asrani

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