India’s policy on Israel and Palestine – Explained, Pointwise

Introduction

India’s policy on Israel and Palestine faces hindrances due to the Israel-Palestine dispute. This dispute is one of the world’s longest-running and most controversial conflicts. It is a conflict between two self-determination movements — the Jewish nationalist project and the Palestinian nationalist project, in the same territory.

This Israel-Palestine dispute has far-reaching impacts on India’s foreign policy on them. India’s close diplomatic relationship with Israel is vital for India’s national interest. But at the same time, India cannot alter its long-standing commitment to the rights of Palestine. With the recent dispute, India’s more balanced and pragmatic approach to the Israel Palestine dispute faces another challenge.

Historical aspects of India’s policy on Israel and Palestine
  1. During our freedom struggle itself India’s policy on Palestine and Israel had taken shape.
  2. In 1938 there was a proposal to create a homeland for Jews in Palestine. Mahatma Gandhi expressed his views on the proposal as, “my sympathy for the Jews does not blind me to the requirements of Justice. It is wrong and inhuman to impose the Jews on the Arabs’.
  3. After Independence, In 1947, India voted against the partition of Palestine at the United Nations General Assembly. Also, Indian political leadership actively supported the Palestinian cause and refused to have full diplomatic relations with Israel.
  4. During the formation of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) in 1964, India supported the formation. India even mentioned Palestine has the right to create an organisation supporting the formation of Palestine. This made India the first non-Arab country to recognise PLO as the sole representative of the Palestine.
  5. In the aftermath of the Six-Day War in 1967, the UN adopted Resolution 242. During that process, India supported the Palestine cause.
  6. India was one of the first countries to recognise the State of Palestine in 1988.
India’s policy on Israel and Palestine post-1992
  1. India established full diplomatic ties with Israel in 1992. But at the same time, India supported the Palestinian cause.
  2. After the Oslo Peace accord in 1993, a self Government body named Palestine Authority (PA) was created. Soon after that, India opened a Representative Office for it in Gaza. This office was later shifted to Ramallah in 2003.
  3. In 1997 the Chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) visited India. During the visit, he laid the foundation stone of an auditorium built by the Indo-Arab League in Hyderabad.
  4. India voted in favour of accepting Palestine as a full member of UNESCO in 2011.
  5. In 2014, India supported the UNHRC’s resolution to probe Israel’s human rights violations in Gaza. But in the next year, India abstained from voting against Israel in UNHRC.
Recent Israel-Palestine dispute and India’s stand on it

Recently Israeli armed forces have penetrated Al-Aqsa Mosque in the Haram esh-Sharif in Jerusalem. Hamas retaliated by firing rockets on Israel. In retaliation, Israeli airstrikes targeted the Gaza Strip. This invoked the Indian response to the Israel-Palestine dispute once again. The India’s stand can be observed by following points,

  1. Not resolutely standing with Israel: Recently, the Israeli Prime Minister mentioned the 25 countries that support Israeli actions. The countries include United States, Albania, etc. But India was not among the list of 25 countries.
  2. Concern towards Palestine: India expressed deep concern over the violence in Jerusalem. Especially on Haram esh-Sharif/Temple Mount that too in the holy month of Ramzan.
  3. Advocating Status-quo: India urged both sides to “refrain from attempts to unilaterally change the existing status quo”. Further, India also demanded, “the historic status quo at the holy places of Jerusalem, including Haram esh-Sharif/Temple Mount must be respected“.
  4. Respecting the sentiments of both Israel and Palestine: India in its official statement mentioned both the “Haram esh-Sharif and Temple Mount”. This is a symbol of mutual respect by India on the religious sentiments of Israel and Palestine.
    • According to the Palestinian narrative, they only maintain Haram esh-Sherif. i.e exclusive Islamic control and ownership.
    • On the other hand, the Israelis mention only Temple Mount. i.e exclusive control and ownership of Jews.
  5. All these signifies India’s commitment towards its de-hyphenation policy on Israel and Palestine
India’s de-hyphenation policy on Israel and Palestine

As a part of the Link West Policy, India has de-hyphenated its relationship with Israel and Palestine. It means India’s relationship with Israel will depend upon its own merits. Also, it will be independent and separate from India’s relationship with the Palestinians. In simple terms, it means, India will have its bilateral strategic ties with Israel irrespective of its political stance on the Israel-Palestine issue. Instead, India will treat both countries as mutually independent and exclusive. The developments under this phase are,

  1. No Indian PM has visited Israel supporting the Palestinian cause. But the de-hyphenation policy enabled the first Indian PM visit to Israel in 2017. During the visit, both countries signed 7 MoUs. This includes sectors such as Agriculture, Water Conservation, India-Israel Industrial Research and Development and Technological Innovation Fund (I4F), etc.
  2. To commemorate 25 years of Indian-Israeli relations, the Israeli Prime Minister visited India in 2018. During that, he honoured the Indian soldiers who perished in the Battle of Haifa during World War I.
  3. So far India has maintained the image of a historical moral supporter for Palestinian self-determination.  At the same time, the policy of de-hyphenation allowed India to engage in the military, economic, and other strategic relations with Israel.
  4. India voted for a resolution criticising the U.S. for recognizing Jerusalem as the Israeli capital. This reassured India’s principle on long-standing policy on Palestine.
Reason for India’s de-hyphenation policy on Israel and Palestine
  1. India’s Link West Policy: India depends on Middle Eastern countries for Oil and Gas imports. Also, the majority of 13.6 million NRIs living in the Middle East. Moreover, approximately 85,000 Jews of Indian origin in Israel. This required an enhanced engagement of India in West Asia. So the policy of de-hyphenation is essential to protect the Indian Interest in the region.
  2. India’s support for a two-state solution: The “two-state solution” is based on a UN resolution of 1947. The solution maintains Israel and Palestine are two different nations. India being a supporter of a two-state solution maintains the bilateral disputes should be resolved through direct negotiations and solutions must be acceptable by both. This helped India to maintain its support for the Palestinian cause and at the same time engage with Israel.
  3. The untapped potential of India-Israel relations: After India engaged with Israel, India-Israel relations reached new heights. The relationship is steadily growing, and the relations extended to the economic, military, and strategic relationship. But still, the full potential of relations was not realised. A few example of present relations are,
    • Today Israel is the third-largest defence supplier to India and India accounts for over 40% of Israel’s defence exports.
    • Israel has become one of the foremost technology superpowers in areas such as rainwater harvesting, water conservation and dryland agriculture. India can learn such techniques only if it has close cooperation.
    • India can scale up the role of Israeli firms in cleaning up other rivers. For example, the recent Delhi government agreement signed an agreement to clean up an eight km stretch of the Yamuna.
    • So, by engaging with Israel, India can utilise the full potential of India-Israel relations.
  4. Problems within the PLO: The PLO faced challenges with FATAH(a small group of radical organisation within PLO) and Hamas in the region. For example, In 2006 Hamas dominated the Gaza Strip region and FATAH ruled the west bank. This resulted in the slow progress of Palestine-Israel negotiations. India, being a supporter of the Palestinian cause, suffered from the problems within PLO. This reduced India’s engagement with united Palestine and Israel. But with the advent of de-hyphenation India balanced both the delayed progress of Palestine and relations with Israel.
Challenges with India’s de-hyphenation policy on Israel and Palestine
  1. Difficult to delink Israel-Palestine dispute: India is facing various challenges in delinking Israel Palestine dispute from India’s foreign policy. For example,
    • With the recent Israel attack on Haram esh-Sharif, India cannot condemn Israel or favour Palestine as India maintain diplomatic relations with both.
    • Israel’s politics dominated by its hostile attitude towards the Palestinians. This makes it difficult for India to take a stand on various issues.
    • Further, Israel wants India to end its pro-Palestine policy. Considering India’s engagement with Israel, India can’t ignore Israel too.
  2. Balancing other regional ties in West Asia: India maintains more active diplomatic relations with Israel and the US. But this might impact India’s relations with other countries in the region. For example, Saudi has not yet recognised Israel as a country and Iran supports the Palestinian cause. Any direct relations with Israel will affect our relationship with these countries.
Suggestions to improve India’s policy on Israel and Palestine
  1. Reassert India’s role to Israel: India has to make clear statements to Israel that India will never give up its support for Palestine. Further, India has to explain that India looks at the Israel-Palestine dispute as a dispute between two nations. So, Israel cannot force India to end the pro-Palestine policy.
  2. Implementing the Two-state solution: Both Israel and Palestine should immediately resume the peace talks under the guidance of the UNSC. India and other nations can aid the peace process. India can help Israel and Palestine to work on creating a sovereign Israel and Palestine. This will satisfy long-standing India’s political commitment to Palestine.
  3. Solving the PLO problems: The PLO has to understand the unity of Hamas, Fatah in creating a Palestine. Recently, Hamas agreed to talks with Fatah. The PLO has to utilise this opportunity and has to work on establishing a sovereign Palestine.

India has so far been successful in balancing its interests in West Asia, both bilaterally and multilaterally. Apart from that, India so far never took sides with neither of the conflicting nations in the region. The world at large needs to come together for a peaceful solution to the Israel-Palestine dispute. This will end India’s long-standing support to Palestine and will also favour closer India-Israel relations and India-Palestine relations.

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