The evolution of Indian foreign policy towards Israel & Palestine.

By Capt. U.S. Gogate & Eshan Arya

24 January 2018
PM_Modi_2015
Indian PM N. Modi / Photo Wikipedia

There have been many controversies about India’s stance towards the Israel-Palestine conflict.  Over the last 70 years, India has had two main political parties: The Indian National Congress which is associated with the Gandhi family and just called “Congress” and the Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP, a more right wing nationalist party that emphasises the ‘Hinduness’ of India.

Congress has been the dominant political party in India prior to the BJP win in 2014. Hence, it has been the Congress Party that historically had most of the influence over the nation’s approach to  this conflict.

India had always  supported  Palestine before its independence from the British government in 1947. India was the first United Nations (UN) member that voted against the partition of Palestine in 1947 and was the first among non-Arab countries to name the Palestine Liberation Organization as the sole body of authority over Palestine. India opposed the UN special Committee proposal for the partition of Palestine.

Later in 1950 though, India came to accept the importance and existence of Israel and recorded their recognition in a press statement. It seems that it was all determined destiny for diplomacy by the Indian government at the time following its independence. The looming conflict between India and Pakistan made India  withhold automatic diplomatic relations with Israel. India’s then head of delegation to the UN, Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit, made it public that India would recognise Israel only  if the dispute between India and Pakistan on Kashmir was settled.

Another internal factor that inhibited these diplomatic relations of 1950 was the sympathy that the Indian Muslim population had towards Palestine. Muslims in India are the largest minority population in the country. Their influential lobby groups supported by Congress have been successful in calling for a delay in the establishment of political relations between India and Israel. In 1988, India recognised the state of Palestine and opened an Indian representative office in 1996 at Gaza.

The first time BJP came to power was in 1996 for 16 days, and then from 1998 to 2004, under Prime Minister (PM) Atal Bihari Vajpayee. During this time India’s first full bilateral diplomatic relation with Israel  resulted in the development on multiple grounds. Israel was one of the few countries that supported India in the Kargil War against Pakistan in 1999. Israel extended its support to India in 2002 by delivering hardware through planes at the time of Operation Parakram. Operation Parakram was the first full-scale military mobilisation against Pakistan since the 1971 Indo-Pakistan war. It was launched in the wake of the December 13, 2001 terrorist attack on Indian Parliament. Moreover, during this period, Israel and India developed several cooperation policies in agriculture and telecommunication. In 2003, Ariel Sharon became the first Israeli PM to visit India, again under the BJP regime.

The Congress Party  came back to power in 2004 and continued their rule until 2014. During this time India supported Palestine. India supported the 2011 Palestinian membership of UNESCO. In 2012, India supported the upgrading status of Palestine from a non-member state in UN in 2012. India’s support for Palestine exceeds the boundaries of politics and incorporates material and technological support. Furthermore, the Indian government  extended their support to Palestine in the fields of higher education too. The foreign policy of India in trading reflected a steady support that resulted into steady growth. India have been exporting many products like rice, vaccine, sanitary wares, marbles, and granites to Palestine for the development of the country.

Towards the end of Congress Party rule, Congress supported increased trade relations with Israel. In 2013, just prior to the federal elections, India became the third largest trading partner of Israel within Asia. In 2014, BJP won the federal elections. In 2015, under the rule of BJP government, Indian president Pranab Mukherjee visited Israel. The Indian president’s visit to Israel was another milestone in bilateral relationship with Israel. However, the shift in support to Israel has not diluted the relationship with Palestine. However, a clear change is visible in India’s reaction to Israel’s treatment of the Palestine.

India, along with Kenya, Paraguay, Ethiopia, and Macedonia abstained an on United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) vote to adopt the Gaza conflict report on 3 July 2014. Though the report condemned the actions of Israel in Palestine, India showed some leniency to Israel. This was the first time India refused to vote against Israel. There were allegations that PM Netanyahu of Israel had made efforts and reached out to PM Modi sometime before UNHRC meeting and swayed the Indian vote. In 2015, India further did not vote against Israel and defended it in the UNHRC Gaza inquiry vote. Modi has visited Israel in 2006 as the Chief Minister of Gujarat and in 2017 as the PM of India. Modi become the only PM of India to visit Israel. Following this visit, significant development of cooperation between India and Israel continues in space research, science & technology, commerce & trade.

Many indications seem to the point that India may change their foreign policy towards the Israel-Palestine conflict in favour of Israel and against the Palestinians. Since the BJP government and prime minister Narendra Modi came to power, there have been reports that New Delhi may not vote on resolutions in favour of the Palestinians at United Nations summits. Recently, the external affairs minister and the PM have pointed to the possibility of solidarity with Palestine and promised to help them reach sovereignty as a their core feature of the new policy. However, these statements only happened at a United Nations Non-Aligned Movement Ministerial Committee on Palestine.

The current Indian government has not actively condemned Israel’s offense in Gaza in July 2014, which left more than a thousand Palestinians dead. Though there has been some concern by the Indian government about the operation; many argue that it has not been a staunch stand showing the possibility of close ties with Israel. Sometime in multilateral platforms of UNHRC resolution and Sixth BRICS (BRICS is the acronym for an association of five major emerging national economies: Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.) Fortaleza Declaration, India condemned the violence of Gaza. India also condemned the intended efforts of expanding the settlements of Israel into the Palestinian Territory.

However, in December 2017, at UN General Assembly, India voted for the cancellation of United States President Donald Trump’s declaration of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. India also cancelled a $500 million anti-tank missile deal with Israel. This has received protests from Israel against India and was a topic for discussion when the Israeli PM visited India on 14 January 2018. During this visit, Modi invited Israeli defence firms to invest in India.

Historically, India’s stand towards Palestine has been shaped by the fact that, the Brits had colonized India as well as Palestine; therefore, most of India’s decisions were aimed at opposing British Imperialism. Thus, the perception that the Palestinian Jews were acting just like the British colonialists made India support the Palestinian cause.

Historically, India’s stand towards Palestine has been shaped by the fact that, the British, as well as Palestine, had colonized India; therefore, most of India’s decisions were aimed at opposing British Imperialism. Thus, the perception that the Palestinian Jews were acting just like the British colonialists made India support the Palestinian cause. There has been significant shift in India’s foreign policy and feeling towards Israel-Palestine conflict, which shifted the support from Palestine to the Israel regime. The BJP government continues its support for Israel over Palestine, but not entirely. With some policies unfavourable policies towards Israel discussed, the direction in which the current policy is heading is still conflicting and unclear.

Modi has not only visited Israel, but also visited other Arab and Gulf countries. Over seven million Indians live and work in the Gulf and Arab countries. These Indians are responsible for sending over USD 40 billion back to India each year. Besides these workers, 80 percent of India’s natural gas is imported from Arab states. At one end India is relying on Arab states for energy, butt has military and arms relations with Israel. The challenge for Modi is to balance the two.

Lastly, the BJP government has paradoxically gained a significant amount of support from the Indian Muslim population. According to Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) the marginal shift of the Muslim vote in favour of the BJP has been led by 70% Muslim women.

This could be the reason BJP may appear conflicted in its direction. It needs to appear nationalist and appeal to the Hindu population by focussing on their regional power and military bilateral relations. But it also needs to appease the minority Muslim population by condemning the acts of their military partner. Nothing in Indian politics is ever simple.  Look forward to more divided loyalties and hedging of bets in the year ahead.

Eshan Arya L No 2
Eshan Arya
Eshans Dad
Capt U.S. Gogate

Further Reading

Agarwal, R., 2014. Persian Gulf 2013: India’s Relations with the Region. Indian Foreign Affairs Journal, 9(1).

Kumar Swamy, P.R., 2017. Reframing India’s Palestine Policy. Contemporary Review of the Middle East, 4(1), pp.-17.

Roy, S., 2016. The Kashmir Conflict in India’s Mediated Tourism Discourses. Radical Conflict: Essays on Violence, Intractability, and Communication, pp. 233.

Sharma, A. and Bing, D., 2015. India–Israel relations: the evolving partnership. Israel Affairs, 21(4), pp. 620-632.

Vincent, P.J., 2015. The historical origin and evolution of the Arab Jewish conflict 1881 1948. A perspective from the Indian side.

Ankit Panda, T. 2018. India’s Position on Israel and Palestine: Change or No Change. [online] thediplomat.com. Available at: https://thediplomat.com/2015/07/indias-position-on-israel-and-palestine-change-or-no-change/

idsa.in. 2018. [online] Available at: https://idsa.in/issuebrief/modi-redefines-india-palestine-policy_prkumaraswamy_180517

indiatoday.in. 2018. What is India’s stand on Israel and Palestine? [online] Available at: https://www.indiatoday.in/india/story/indias-stand-on-israel-and-palestine-bilateral-relations-foreign-policy-1102072-2017-12-07

mea.gov.in. 2018. India – Palestine Relation [online] Available at: https://www.mea.gov.in/Portal/ForeignRelation/Palestine_July_2016.pdf

3 comments

  1. Good to read the Article that has Analysed the reasons for the present Dilema being faced by the Government with respect to its relations with Israel. In spite of covering the History of India – Israel – Palestine only in brief – and rightly so; the Authors have been able to explain the Issue comprehensively. Apart from Defence Partnership, Israel would, it is certain; share India’s Counter Terrorism and Anti Separatism Sentiment more than any other Foreign country. As for the Govt’s Balancing Act, what other sources of Natural Gas can India tap and how it can reduce its dependence on Crude Oil and Natural Gas seems to be a huge Challenge. May be, Electric Cars and Nuclear Power Generation are the Alternatives.

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