India’s ties with Israel have been on an upswing, more so since the BJP came to power in 2014. New Delhi, however, has also sought to please Palestine by voting against Israel on the Jerusalem resolution. As PM Modi heads to Palestine with a development package,
ThePrint asks: Is India being too ambitious by trying to balance ties with Israel and Palestine?
Israel’s improving relations with the Arab world have provided India the space to maintain a balanced relationship
Dean, Centre for International Relations and Diplomacy, VIF, and former foreign secretary
India has long supported the Palestinian cause, and as a corollary, has cold-shouldered Israel for decades, which was as much an ideological and moral position as a political one.
But our policy towards Israel has evolved, and rightly so. Today we have vigorous ties with Israel, especially in the defence area, but our basic commitment to the Palestinian people remains, as our vote on Jerusalem in the United Nations General Assembly showed.
With Israel maintaining a hard posture on Palestinian demands and India favouring a political solution based on UN resolutions and other peace-making processes between Israel and Palestine, we have the challenge of balancing these two realities.
In this regard, we have done well to de-hyphenate the two relationships. Our Prime Minister visited Israel last year without visiting Palestine. He has received Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in India a few weeks ago. He is now visiting Palestine on a stand-alone visit.
This meets our diplomatic needs, but this approach should satisfy Israel too, as the ritual so far has been foreign leaders visiting Israel and Palestine together. This establishes a direct equation between the two, about which Israel could not have been happy.
India has extracted itself from this situation and given itself the freedom to develop the scope of ties as between Israel and Palestine based on the potential of the two relationships. Our bilateral requirements go beyond positioning ourselves on the political conflict between the two sides.
Of course, the changing equation between Israel and the Arab world has provided us the required space. India is not seeking any mediatory role, not the least because powerful mediators such as the US and Europe have not succeeded in resolving the conflict in the region despite years of effort.
A brief paragraph on the Palestinian issue figured in the joint statement issued on the occasion of Netanyahu’s visit. This is as far as we can go to flag our position on the conflict.
Palestine is not a full-fledged state (although we have recognised it as one and there is a Palestinian embassy in New Delhi) and that limits the scope of our ties with it.
The Palestinians need various forms of assistance to ease their plight. The focus of Modi’s visit will rightly be on areas such as health, education, information technology and so on, and not the politics of the Israel-Palestine conflict.
India’s relationships with Israel and Palestine have evolved over time, and this is just the consequence of the same
Former Indian Ambassador to the US and Israel
India has maintained a strong bilateral relationship with Israel because it is in our national interest. However, it has also maintained its traditional position on Palestine, which was demonstrated by how we cast our vote at the United Nations in December.
What has changed in the India-Israel relationship is that the reticence to talk about it has faded. Ever since the new government came to power in 2014, we have been politically upfront about our bilateral ties with Israel, which were established in 1992.
In 2015, the Indian President visited Israel, which was followed by a visit from the Israeli President in 2016. In 2017, Narendra Modi became the first Indian Prime Minister to visit Israel. In January 2018, Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli PM visited India.
Now the Prime Minister is set to visit Palestine. There are things of note here that must be stressed.
First, the Indian government has now signalled that it wants to de-hyphenate bilateral ties with Israel and Palestine. Visits are independent of each and not made together. The PM will only be visiting Palestine in this trip.
Second, on the Israel-Palestine issue, India’s broad position has not changed.
Third, the politics and optics of India’s relationship with Israel are morphing without reserve, i.e. which can be talked about.
This is not ambitious at all. These relationships have evolved over time and this is just a consequence of the same.
It is in India’s historic interest to maintain a harmonious relationship with both parties
Retired Indian diplomat, former foreign secretary
India has relations with both the entities in question – that is, Israel and Palestine. These ties have been consistently developed and nurtured over the last century and more.
India has always had every intention of maintaining friendly ties with Palestine, despite its changing relationship with Israel. The PM is visiting Palestine; Netanyahu, the Prime Minister of Israel recently visited India. This is a clear indication that India is developing relations in both directions.
It is integral to maintain friendly relations with both countries, which may be antagonistic towards each other, but are not antagonistic towards India. It is valuable to us in diplomatic terms and we must maintain good terms.
I won’t go into details, but this policy is part of India’s historic interest in this whole region. We have engaged with various different factors in the Middle East. Keeping them all in mind, our approach has always been pragmatic and with an aim to maintain harmonious relationships with all parties concerned. Balance has always been an important keyword when we talk about India in the Middle-East.
The different approach to both the countries is a simple question of realistically evaluating the situation. Investing in health and infrastructure in Palestine isn’t about soft-power, it is about factoring in the conflict between the Arabs and Israel.
The population of Arabs in the region is quite high. Moreover, Israel is a small but potent nation. India is conscious of the fact that it doesn’t want to take sides. Both parties are of interest and significance to us.
The approach reflects our larger national interest in a region where these are important volatile factors to consider.
Compiled by Deeksha Bhardwaj, Journalist at ThePrint.