September 24, 2022

Lukmaan IAS

A Blog for IAS Examination

IS INDIA’S PALESTINE POLICY EVOLVING?

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THE CONTEXT: In May 2021 India’s as a member of the UNSC made a carefully crafted statement at the UN Security Council “open debate” on the escalated Israel-Palestine violence, striving to maintain a balance between India’s historic ties with Palestine and its blossoming relations with Israel. India’s statement at UNSC seeks a balance between its old ties with Palestine and growing relations with Israel. This article traces India’s journey through the world’s oldest conflict, from Nehru years to the Modi regime.

RECENT ISRAEL-PALESTINE CONFLICT

  • The conflict erupted on May 10, when weeks of simmering tensions in Jerusalem among Palestinian protesters, the police and right-wing Israelis escalated, against the backdrop of a long-standing battle for control of a city sacred to Jews, Arabs and Christians.
  • The root of the latest violence is an intense dispute over East Jerusalem, which is predominantly Palestinian.
  • Protests had gone on for days before a Supreme Court ruling, originally expected on May 10 but then postponed, on the eviction of several Palestinian families from East Jerusalem. Israeli officials described it as a dispute over real estate.
  • Many Arabs called it part of a wider Israeli campaign to force Palestinians out of the city, describing it as ethnic cleansing.
  • The ceasefire came after 11 days of fighting, which left at least 255 people dead. Most of those killed were Palestinians in the territory of Gaza.

SECURITY COUNCIL MEETING ON THE CONFLICT

  • In May 2021 United Nations Security Council held an emergency open meeting on the escalated violence in Gaza.
  • India, as a non-permanent UNSC member, also made a statement over the conflict and appealed for a peaceful solution to the conflict. Although India’s statement was about the peaceful solution there was a major shift in India’s statement.

SHIFT IN INDIA’S STATEMENT

INDIA STAND ON RECENT CONFLICT INDIA’S STAND-IN PAST

·         Strong support for the just Palestinian cause and its unwavering commitment to the two-state solution. 

·         Condemnation of the rocket attacks from Gaza but no direct reference to the disproportionate bombing over Israel has been on the impoverished Gaza Strip.

·         Until 2017, the Indian position was that it supported the creation of an independent, sovereign Palestine state based on the 1967 border and with East Jerusalem as its capital that lives alongside Israel.

 AN ANALYSIS OF THE INDIA’S STATEMENT

  • The statement is seeing major shift in India’s policy toward the conflict and it was clear that in council India was careful not to upset Israel’s sensitivities.
  • The crux of the Indian argument of a two-state solution, that East Jerusalem should be the capital of future Palestine state, was missing in India’s statement.
  • This is the first time when India tried to create a balance in UNSC meetings and in past India’s always supported the two-state theory with East Jerusalem as Palestine capital.
  • India dropped referring to East Jerusalem after Jerusalem was recognized as the capital of Israel by former President of America, Donald Trump, in 2017. A similar practice was followed in Modi’s statement during the visit of Palestine President Mahmoud Abbas in 2017 and during Modi’s visit to Ramallah in 2018.
  • A closer look at the syntax of the statement delivered by India reveals the underlying nuances in India’s evolving Israel-Palestine policy.
  • This is a subtle way of saying that India doesn’t stand with the Palestinian narrative.
  • India’s carefully drafted statement backs Israel’s right to self-defence against indiscriminate attacks from a terrorist outfit that targets Israeli civilians

A balancing act:

  • India went to support “the just Palestinian cause,” and an “unwavering commitment to the two-state solution”. But in essence, this was a balancing act, because even as India recognized this “just” cause for Palestinians, it also “condemned” the “indiscriminate” rockets coming from Gaza and targeting Israeli citizens.

However, the balancing did not appear to have gone down well with the Israeli side. When Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has a good rapport with Narendra Modi, thanked 25 countries that he said stood with Israel, there was no reference to India.

WHY DOES INDIA TRIED TO CREATE A BALANCING ACT?

RECENT RELATION DEVELOPMENT WITH ISRAEL?

·         For two-and-a-half decades from 1992, the India-Israel relationship continued to grow, mostly through defence deals, and in sectors such as science and technology and agriculture. But India never acknowledged the relationship fully.

·         In 2000, L K Advani became the first Indian minister to visit Israel and in that year, the two countries set up a joint anti-terror commission.

·         In 2017, Mr. Modi became the first Indian PM to visit Israel and Mr. Netanyahu travelled to India in 2018.

·         It was during NDA-2 that the current government decided to take full ownership of the relationship with Israel.

·         The first indication of the new phase came with an abstention by India at the UN Human Rights Council on a resolution welcoming a report by the HRC High Commissioner that had evidence of alleged war crimes committed by Israeli forces and Hamas during the 2014 airstrikes against Gaza that killed over 2000.

PALESTINE IS ALSO IMPORTANT FOR LOOK WEST POLICY

·         While Israel ties are on a strong footing, India cannot ignore the Palestinians for historic, moral, legal and realist reasons.

·         Historically, India, which went through the horrors of 1947, opposed the partition of Palestine.

·         Throughout the Cold War, it remained a strong supporter of Palestinian freedom, taking a moral and legal position against the Israeli occupation, in line with international laws and norms.

·         It established full diplomatic relations with Israel in 1992, in the context of improving Israel-Palestine ties but never abandoned the Palestinians.

·         India’s stand on conflict is also important for its middle=east policy. India’s Palestine policy had realist underpinnings too. India has been energy dependent on the Arab world. It cannot alienate the Arab voices or be isolated in the General Assembly, where most member countries oppose the occupation.

HOW DID INDIA’S PALESTINE POLICY EVOLVE?

FROM NEHRU TO RAO: COMPLETELY PRO PALESTINE

 

·         In 1948, India was the only non-Arab-state among 13 countries that voted against the UN partition plan of Palestine in the General Assembly that led to the creation of Israel.

·         India’s energy dependence on the Arab countries also became a factor, as did the sentiments of India’s own Muslim citizens.

·         In 1975, India became the first non-Arab country to recognise the PLO as the sole representative of the Palestinian people and invited it to open an office in Delhi, which was accorded diplomatic status five years later.

·         In 1988, when the PLO declared an independent state of Palestine with its capital in East Jerusalem, India granted recognition immediately.

·         Arafat was received as head of state whenever he visited India.

MAJOR SHIFT IN 1992

·         With the end of the Cold War and the disintegration of the USSR and the domestic economic crisis forced India to respond to new challenges and dilute its hard adherence.

·         Pragmatists received an upper hand in policy in the post-liberalisation of India, which gradually began gravitating towards the United States, and strategic alliances became pre-eminent over ideological coalitions with the aim of pursuing national interest.

·         It has been a tightrope walk for India between Palestine and Israel, ever since, in asserting its independent foreign policy.

·         As a result, in 1992, India established a diplomatic mission in Tel Aviv and recognized Israel as a country.

·         India also opened a Representative Office in Gaza, which later moved to Ramallah as the Palestinian movement split between the Hamas (which gained control of Gaza) and the PLO.

BALANCING ACT SINCE 1992

·         After normalisation of relations with Israel under the two countries received a strong impetus under the BJP-led government in the late 1990s and again under the current government.

·         Economic ties, investment, defence collaborations and technological and cultural exchanges with Israel have significantly increased in the years.

But India always tries to create a balanced and supported Palestine right for example:

  • Voted in favour of the UN General Assembly resolution in October 2003 against Israel’s construction of a separation wall.
  • Voted for Palestine to become a full member of UNESCO in 2011, and a year later, co-sponsored the UN General Assembly resolution that enabled Palestine to become a “non-member” observer state at the UN without voting rights.
  • Supported the installation of the Palestinian flag on the UN premises in September 2015.
  • In December 2017 voted against the United States’ decision in the UN to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
DURING CURRENT GOVERNMENT: LEANING TOWARD ISRAEL WITH CAUTION

·         Pranab Mukherjee became the first Indian President to visit Israel in 2015. However, he had during his visit reiterated India’s position on Jerusalem as the capital of an independent Palestine.

·         In February 2018, Modi became the first Indian Prime Minister to visit Israel. His itinerary did not include Ramallah.

·         But in February 2021 the International Criminal Court claimed jurisdiction to investigate human rights abuses in Palestinian territory including West Bank and Gaza and named both Israeli security forces and Hamas as perpetrators.

·         That is because India’s own balancing act is a constant work of progress. The latest statement is no different. Though it was not pro Palestine, it hardly pleased Israel.

 

ISRAEL-PALESTINE CONFLICT: UNDERSTANDING THE ISSUE

A 100-year-old issue

  • Britain took control of the area known as Palestine after the ruler of that part of the Middle East, the Ottoman Empire, was defeated in World War One.
  • The land was inhabited by a Jewish minority and Arab majority.
  • Tensions between the two peoples grew when the international community gave Britain the task of establishing a “national home” in Palestine for Jewish people.
  • For Jews it was their ancestral home, but Palestinian Arabs also claimed the land and opposed the move.
  • Between the 1920s and 1940s, the number of Jews arriving there grew, with many fleeing from persecution in Europe and seeking a homeland after the Holocaust of World War Two.
  • Violence between Jews and Arabs, and against British rule, also grew.
  • In 1947, the UN voted for Palestine to be split into separate Jewish and Arab states, with Jerusalem becoming an international city.
  • That plan was accepted by Jewish leaders but rejected by the Arab side and never implemented.

The creation of Israel and the ‘Catastrophe’

  • In 1948, unable to solve the problem, British rulers left and Jewish leaders declared the creation of the state of Israel.
  • Many Palestinians objected and a war followed. Troops from neighbouring Arab countries invaded.
  • Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled or were forced out of their homes in what they call Al-Nakba, or the “Catastrophe”.
  • By the time the fighting ended in a ceasefire the following year, Israel controlled most of the territory.
  • Jordan occupied land which became known as the West Bank, and Egypt occupied Gaza.
  • Jerusalem was divided between Israeli forces in the West and Jordanian forces in the East.
  • Because there was never a peace agreement – with each side blaming the other – there were more wars and fighting in the following decades.

The map today

  • In another war in 1967, Israel occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank, as well as most of the Syrian Golan Heights, Gaza and the Egyptian Sinai peninsula.
  • Most Palestinian refugees and their descendants live in Gaza and the West Bank, as well as in neighbouring Jordan, Syria and Lebanon.
  • Neither they nor their descendants have been allowed by Israel to return to their homes – Israel says this would overwhelm the country and threaten its existence as a Jewish state.
  • image caption Israeli military commanders arrive in East Jerusalem, after Israeli forces seized East Jerusalem, during the Six-Day War in 1967
  • Israel still occupies the West Bank, and although it pulled out of Gaza the UN still regards that piece of land as occupied territory.
  • Israel claims the whole of Jerusalem as its capital, while the Palestinians claim East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state. The US is one of only a handful of countries to recognise the city as Israel’s capital.
  • In the past 50 years Israel has built settlements in these areas, where more than 600,000 Jews now live.
  • Palestinians say these are illegal under international law and are obstacles to peace, but Israel denies this.

WAY FORWARD

One State Solution

The two-state solution has failed and it is time that the counties accept it and move towards the only practical solution of a single nation having equal rights for both Palestinians and Israelis. Even US President Donald Trump has suggested the one-state solution for resolving conflict.

India as mediator

India can act as a mediator instead of the US due to its neutral stand and can help in the negotiations and thus the final resolution of the conflict.

Ending Occupation

As declared by the UN, ending the occupation of Israel from the Gaza Strip and the West Bank and making them a separate Palestine nation can be the only long-lasting solution to the Israel Palestine conflict.

Confederation

Israel and Palestine can form a confederation based on territories as per the two-nation formula. In the confederation, they can work jointly on resources, security and economic issues while enjoying free movement between the two states. However, citizens can vote only in their own elections.

CONCLUSION: India, which historically has been an ally to the Palestine cause, has resorted to a balancing act on issues concerning Israel and Palestine. But this act is a repudiation of India’s historical worldview and it disregards the harsh realities which are skewed against Palestine. By compromising on India’s longstanding policy by not acknowledging Eastern Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine, which is the crux of the ‘two-state solution, India blemishes the geographical validity of the solution itself. India, with its history pulling through the partition, which essentially was a political issue with a religious dimension, to build an inclusive, secular democracy, can act as the viable model for the peaceful coexistence of formerly antagonistic groups. For this to materialize, India must relinquish its balancing act and call a spade a spade.

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