On 28 May Benjamin Netanyahu, prime minister of Israel, declared his government will unilaterally annex parts of the West Bank of Palestine and the Palestinians living there will not be extended either Israeli citizenship or equal rights.
The parts to be occupied are referred to by Israeli extremists by their biblical names of Judea and Samaria, thereby attempting to align the present with the status quo of more than 2,000 years ago.
The annexation envisioned will flagrantly breach international law and countless UN resolutions. It would be deserving of sanctions against Israel. Haaretz, an Israeli daily, reminded right-wingers: “Remember ‘Thou Shalt Not Steal’.” It also warned “Netanyahu’s assault on the rule of law” may “trigger a multi-front war within weeks”. US president, Donald Trump, supports Netanyahu, who has otherwise been charged with corruption and will in due course face trial.
Calls for a tougher stance by the European Union (EU) are growing within the body. Officials in Brussels threatened to terminate science research aid to Israel. In the past six years this has amounted to a tidy $1.1 billion. Earlier, its external affairs commissioner, Josep Borrell, urged Israel to “refrain from any unilateral decision”. France encouraged fellow members of the Union to consider threatening Israel with a tough response if it went ahead with annexation
Heiko Maas, foreign minister of Germany, warned Israel that annexation of occupied Palestinian land would be a violation of international law. British foreign minister of state, James Cleverly, remarked: “Our long-standing position is that we do not support the annexation of parts of the West Bank.” Russia and China joined the chorus. Japan advocated a two-state solution.
Even within Netayahu’s ruling alliance, agriculture minister, Alon Schuster, of the partner Blue and White party, stressed his government should not unilaterally annex any land. He is not the only one in the cabinet with such an opinion.
But the Narendra Modi government is deafeningly silent. It seems to be oblivious of the need to balance state interest with principles in foreign policy. On 10 June, Modi spoke to Netanyahu on the phone. This was the third time in as many months the two indulged in such conversation.
Modi congratulated his counterpart on his continuance in office, “expressed confidence that the IndiaIsrael partnership would continue to flourish” under the latter’s “leadership and guidance”. Quite remarkably, Modi seems to have deferred to Netanyahu as the guru of the bilateral relationship!
Indeed, Modi refrained from raising the issue of annexation. This is not a Golda Meir, Yitzhak Rabin or Shimon Perez New Delhi is dealing with. Condoning Netanyahu’s expansionist design even by default is embarrassing to India. Historically, the Hindu Right to its utter disgrace has unreservedly drawn inspiration from Nazism to Zionism. Its representative, Modi, has now dragged the Indian state towards this dubious world view.
Palestine, nestling between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River on the cusp of Europe, Asia and Africa, is the birthplace of Judaism and Christianity. It has over millennia been the seat of many kingdoms.
In November 1917 Britain proposed creation of a homeland for Jews in Palestine. A month later Britain captured the ancient and historic city of Jerusalem from the Ottomans. In 1922 the League of Nations – a forerunner to the United Nations – formally awarded a mandate over Palestine to the United Kingdom.
In the 1930s a flood of Jewish immigration – partly instigated by the persecution of Jews in Nazi Germany - and unpopular British colonial rule triggered a revolt among the Arab majority in Palestine. However, the treatment of Jews by Adolf Hitler swayed international sentiment in the direction of establishing a Jewish State in Palestine
In 1947 Britain renounced the mandate granted to it. The United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) voted to partition Palestine into independent Arab and Jewish states.
The Arabs rejected the plan; the Israelis were divided – the hard-core being displeased that the whole of Palestine had not been awarded to Jews - but went along with it, declaring the birth of their state in May 1948. Israel in fact grabbed more territory than allocated to it. Neighbouring Arab nations immediately attacked Israel, but the hostilities ended in a stalemate.
In the late 1940s and early 1950s nearly a million Palestinians were displaced from their soil and replaced by an equal number of Jews from Arab countries. Only two pockets of the country remained with the Palestinians – the West Bank and East Jerusalem, invaded by neighbouring Jordan, and the Gaza Strip, held by Egypt. Even these were overrun by Israel in the 1967 war with Egypt, Jordan and Syria.
The Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) was formed in 1965 by Yasser Arafat and gradually gained international recognition, culminating in the Oslo Peace Accords between the Israeli government and the PLO.
These authorised the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) to administer parts of Gaza and the West Bank pending a final resolution of the conflict. In 2012 the PNA, also the State of Palestine, was upgraded to non-member observer status at the UN, enabling it to participate in General Assembly debates.
But since the rapprochement at Oslo – partly due to the armed resistance from the Islamist group Hamas, which is also at odds with the PNA – the Israeli military have repeatedly and violently abused unarmed Palestinians. It has not only spurned the two-state solution, but committed aggression, imposed Israeli settlements on Palestinian land and unlawfully enlarged its dominance.
Newly independent India endorsed a free Palestinian state. But when the UNGA voted in favour of two states, India opposed the partition of Palestine, suggesting a federal state with two autonomous regions. In effect, secular India was allergic to a state based on religious exclusivism. India also voted against Israel’s membership of the UN, approved in 1949, on the grounds that it had come into existence by use of force. However, in 1950, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru granted recognition to Israel, without translating this to full diplomatic relations.
Israel hankered after greater ties with India. But given its extra-judicial conduct, India was uncomfortable and therefore restricted itself to a pragmatic level of engagement. Israel covertly supplied small arms and ammunitions to India during the latter’s wars with China in 1962 and Pakistan in 1965 and 1971.
In 1992, Prime Minister P V Narasimha Rao converted Nehru’s in-principle recognition of Israel to one of in-practice. This delighted the Jewish lobby in the West, especially in the United States, and took the wind off the sails of potential vengeance on the part of Washington, considering India’s vulnerability after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Israel enthusiastically subscribed to India’s position that Pakistan should vacate the part of Jammu & Kashmir held by it.
But sensing the Bharatiya Janata Party – which was in power between 1998 and 2004 – was anxious to hug rather than just shake hands with Israel, Tel Aviv did not reiterate its stand on Kashmir in a joint statement during Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s 2003 visit to India. Besides, though Israel denied this, Britain claimed it supplied components to the Pakistan Air Force for its F-16 fighter planes. Between 2004 and 2014, the Congress government of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh restored the relationship to a cautious but constructive arrangement.
Turning a blind eye to Netanyahu’s expansionist ploy – which is aimed at averting conviction in the criminal charges levelled against him and ensuring his political survival - would be inconsistent and unethical. It could also weaken India’s argument on Pakistan’s forcible and illegal occupation of a large swathe of Jammu and Kashmir.