Why Modi needs to tread carefully in Tel Aviv

The Prime Minister has to ensure that he does not give the impression that India has abandoned the Palestinian cause because that may affect India’s claim over Pak occupied Kashmir

Photo by Ajay Aggarwal/Hindustan Times via Getty Images
Photo by Ajay Aggarwal/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

Ashis Ray

There seems to be an element of excitement in Hindu extremist circles about Narendra Modi’s visit to Israel next week.

India however has historically avoided going overboard about this interface so as to protect its vital interests.

The Palestinian question has enticed India since its independence movement. Mahatma Gandhi spelled out his support for the Palestinian cause as far back as the early 1920s. This materialised into the Indian National Congress and then independent India endorsing a free Palestinian state.

The Zionists made attempts to woo Gandhi, but without success. The matter of partitioning a country on religious lines was repugnant to the Congress. Gandhi believed the agreement of Arab Palestinians was necessary for the creation of a Jewish homeland on Palestine’s territory.

In 1947 India proposed in the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine a plan for the establishment of a federal Palestine with internal autonomy for the Jewish population. When the UN General Assembly voted in favour of creating two states – Arab and Jewish – India opposed the partition of Palestine and suggested a federal state with two autonomous areas.

India also opposed Israel’s membership of the UN on the ground that it had come into being through use of force. In effect, India was resistant to a state based on religious exclusivism.

The State of Israel was proclaimed in 1948. But India did not recognise it. Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru said: “The Government of India have received a request from the State of Israel for recognition. We propose to take no action in this matter at present.” In September 1950, though, Nehru agreed to grant de jure recognition, without establishing full diplomatic relations.

But notwithstanding non-existence of an ambassador grade relationship, Israel covertly supplied small arms and ammunition to India during the latter’s wars with China in 1962 and with Pakistan in 1965 and 1971. In 1991, India voted in favour of an UNGA resolution which overturned its 1975 resolution equating Zionism with racism. The following year, the government of Prime Minister P V Narasimha Rao consented to total diplomatic ties – a strategic move that took the wind off the sails of potential hostility on the part of Washington in view of India’s insecurity after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

It was also a notice to Muslim countries who had repeatedly supported Pakistan on Kashmir at Organisation of Islamic Countries’ meets. In contrast, Israel was in sync with India’s position on the dispute. Despite leading a minority government, Rao succeeded in implementing the ground-breaking move, because the Bharatiya Janata Party was enthusiastic about the upgrade. 25 years later, Israel is the third biggest exporter of military hardware to India, albeit under the watchful eye of the United States.

Predictably, under the BJP-led governments of 1998-2004 and now, policy towards Israel became somewhat incautious. Visits by home ministers Lal Krishna Advani and Rajnath Singh reflected this. But between 2004 and 2014 under the Congress, it reverted to its previous careful but constructive engagement.

What is Israel’s position on Kashmir?

When India granted full recognition to Israel, Tel Aviv’s position was Pakistan would have to vacate the part of Kashmir occupied by it. But sensing BJP's weakness, Israel was emboldened to initiate cordiality with Pakistan. The Delhi Declaration during Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s visit in 2003 made no reference to Israel’s position on Kashmir, because Tel Aviv wanted to water it down. Though Israel denied it, Britain confirmed it supplied components for the Pakistan Air Force’s F-16 fighter planes. Should Israel’s ties with Pakistan acquire a greater magnitude, this would certainly be worrying for India.

With India dependent on arms supplies from Israel, Tel Aviv is inclined to extricate itself from its original demand of Pakistani withdrawal from Kashmir; for it has itself annexed a large swathe of Palestine. Crucially for India, its opposition to the Pakistani occupation in Kashmir would be jeopardised if it approves Israel's presence on Palestinian land without a final resolution. The circumstances are not dissimilar.

Benjamin Netanyahu, who is presently the Jewish prime minister, has a career record of being unhelpful to peace. What is common between him and Modi is their hatred of Muslims. But where Modi will find it difficult to agree with him is on Iran, towards which the Israeli spits fire, but India cannot do without. A number of western nations have, in fact, distanced themselves from Israel because of Netanyahu. Indeed, the US-Israel relationship reached a trough during the Barack Obama administration.

Modi has, admittedly, paved the way for the trip by interacting with Arab countries and Iran. He has also received Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, an interim self-government arrangement since 1994.

But there's a feeling Modi has abandoned the Palestinians and Indian support for East Jerusalem as capital of a sovereign Palestine. There is no harm in an Indian head of government visiting Israel as long as Modi doesn’t go overboard in his embrace – physical and metaphorical.

He’s just danced with the devil in Washington; and is capable of doing so again. To compromise with unratified Israeli occupation of Palestine would irreversibly weaken India’s stand for return of Kashmiri territory by Pakistan, as well as its resistance to the China Pakistan Economic Corridor ploughing through Gilgit and Baltistan, which New Delhi claims to be Indian territory.

Follow us on: Facebook, Twitter, Google News, Instagram 

Join our official telegram channel (@nationalherald) and stay updated with the latest headlines