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India on Israel–Palestine: The Case for Neutrality
By pulling towards Israel in a very partisan manner, India endangers more than just its own strategic national interests
India finds itself in a delicate and challenging situation as the violence escalates between Israel and Hamas, the militant group ruling the Gaza Strip.
The India–Israel relationship, marked by increased defence and security cooperation, has strengthened over nearly three decades, but India’s historical commitment to the Palestinian cause and its support for a two-state solution add complexity to its stance in this volatile situation.
The repercussions of the ongoing Israel–Palestine conflict extend beyond the immediate region, affecting global dynamics, particularly the US-brokered Abraham Accords and the I2U2 (India, Israel, US and UAE) grouping, which focuses on economic cooperation.
With this conflict, hopes for a normalisation of relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia have receded and the possibility now seems remote.
The proposed India–Middle East–Europe Economic Corridor also faces its first challenge with the armed conflict disrupting peace in the region.
India’s support for the Palestinian cause has deep roots, dating back to its endorsement of United Nations Resolution 181 in 1947, which called for the partition of Palestine into separate Jewish and Arab states. In 1988, India was among the first nations to recognise the State of Palestine, and since then, it has consistently advocated for the establishment of an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel.
Conversely, India established formal diplomatic relations with Israel in 1992, later than many Western nations.
Since then, the India–Israel relationship has grown steadily, encompassing defence, technology, agriculture and other sectors. This dual engagement creates a diplomatic challenge for India, necessitating a balanced approach at this highly volatile and dangerous stage of the conflict.
However, Indian prime minister Narendra Modi, instead of taking a balanced approach, has described the Hamas strike as “terrorist attacks” and expressed “solidarity with Israel”. Even some Israeli newspapers, such as the long-running Haaretz, do not categorise the Hamas as a terror group or its attack on 7 October as a terror attack.
Over the past nine years, India’s historical support for Palestine has undergone a significant shift, with Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist government moving from anti-colonial solidarity to a strong security alliance with Israel. This shift is being justified in terms of geopolitical interests and pragmatic considerations.
Public support in India for the Palestinian cause is massive and it is not limited to India’s 200 million-strong Muslim population. Ignoring popular sentiment, the Modi government has openly allied with Israel, primarily because Hindu nationalists in India and Zionists in Israel share a common commitment to the idea of a strong religious nation-state.
Taking a partisan stance could jeopardise India’s diaspora communities, however, potentially creating religious divisions among them and complicating diplomatic efforts to protect their interests.
To safeguard its position and uphold its national interests, India must adhere to a neutral stance in the Israel–Palestine conflict.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi should reconsider his position, ensuring that India is not seen as an ally of Israel in the ongoing violent conflict with Hamas. India’s stance should prioritise neutrality, allowing the nation to promote peace, safeguard its geopolitical and economic interests, uphold international law, maintain foreign policy consistency and protect its diaspora.
Adopting a neutral position may not satisfy all parties involved, and probably not the US, but it will position India as an honest broker and mediator in pursuit of a just and lasting resolution. In doing so, India will demonstrate its commitment to a peaceful Middle East, while remaining true to its principles of non-alignment and diplomacy.
What India needs in the ongoing Israel–Palestine conflict is a delicate balancing act, a stand that renews its commitment to the Nehruvian principles of peace, justice and international cooperation on the global stage.
ASHOK SWAIN is a professor of peace and conflict research at Uppsala University, Sweden