October 13, 2023
As the Israel-Hamas conflict continues into its fifth day, it has incurred heavy losses on both sides, claiming close to a total of 3,600 lives. And the war theatre—seems only to be getting bigger; as days pass, more lives are bound to be lost, with the geopolitical complications building up and the military engagement getting more complex.
Until a solution acceptable to both the parties is found to a problem that has defied a resolution ever since May 14, 1948—the year Israel was born—with head of the Jewish Agency David Ben-Gurion proclaiming the establishment of the State of Israel and US President Harry S Truman recognizing the new nation that very day!
The Perspective of History
The size of what Palestine is in the 2020s is vastly reduced from the size of what Palestine was during the Balfour Declaration of 1917, which favoured the establishment of a Jewish national home in Palestine. Earlier, the whole country was Palestine. But, with each significant war that has taken place between Israel and the coalition of inimical Arab states that surround this tiny Middle Eastern country, it has been able to make significant inroads into enemy territory.
Through successive significant wars—the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, the 1973 Yom Kippur War—Israel has overwhelmed the powerful coalition of Arab states, gradually annexing areas previously not under its control. The earlier borders did not include such areas as western Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip, West Bank, Golan Heights and the Sinai Peninsula.
During the Six-Day War of 1967, Israel gained control of these territories—half of Syria’s Golan Heights, Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula and West Bank territories which Jordan had held since 1948. At the 1978 Camp David Accords that followed the 1973 war, Israel withdrew from the entire Sinai Peninsula leaving it to Egypt. The status of the other territories remains a bone of contention and grounds for negotiations in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
India & the Partition Plan
In 1947, India stood by the Arab countries and voted against the Partition of Palestine plan along with the Arab countries. India also voted against the admission of Israel into the UN. In 1950, India was also one of the last non-Muslim states to recognize Israel.
India was not only among the first to recognize Palestine in 1988, but was also the first non-Arab state to recognize the ‘Palestine Liberation Organization’ (PLO) in 1974. India had a strong bonding with Yasser Arafat, chairman of the PLO from 1969 to 2004. Arafat, who had a very good relationship going with Indira Gandhi, was a frequent visitor to India during the 1980s.
On the other hand, India also had a very good relationship with Israel. Although India openly had strong ties with the Palestinians, it also maintained a fairly good relationship with Israel. This was India’s officially declared diplomatic stance until almost the 1980s.
However, looking at things from India’s perspective, the Palestinians are a part of the Arab countries. The Arabs had never favoured India in the 1962 War against China, choosing to remain neutral. And, during the 1965 War and 1971 War between India and Pakistan, the Arab countries staunchly backed Pakistan, and not India. On the contrary, Israel covertly helped India in the 1962 and 1965 wars, proving that it was very positively disposed towards India.
In 1992, for the first time, New Delhi and Tel-Aviv established full diplomatic ties and that was also the year in which India opened its Embassy in Tel-Aviv. And, in 1998, Israel was one of the select few nations—a group that included also France and Russia—which did not condemn India for its Pokhran nuclear test. And, even as Israel stood by India, the rest of the world, including the Arab countries, went against it.
In 1999, Israel helped India in the Kargil War by providing it with ammunition, mortar, surveillance drones and laser-guided missiles, which helped India deal effectively with the Pakistani incursion.
Modi Government & Israel
In 2014, India favoured a United Nations resolution moved against Israel’s human rights violations in Gaza. But, despite supporting the probe, India abstained from voting against Israel in the UN Human Rights Commission in 2015. To that extent, India was tacitly supporting Israel.
In 2017, Modi was the first Indian prime minister to visit Israel. But he did not visit Palestine. At that point of time, it was seen as a policy shift. Soon afterwards, in 2018, Modi made another trip, this time to Palestine. And this time, he did not visit Israel. He was also given the highest civilian award in Palestine. In the same year, Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu visited India. So, somewhere, India maintained that balance.
Thoughts in Conclusion
First of all, India should keep a close watch on Pakistan, which has hit rock bottom at the moment—both economically and image-wise. They are irrelevant to the current world order. So, with this kind of war happening, Pakistan has a chance to elevate itself to the position of leader of the Muslim world. Pakistan does not have money. But most countries supporting Palestine, the Arabs, have money. And, if they provide money to Pakistan, Pakistan also gets to boost its image of being a leader of the Muslim world. Based on this, they could take some steps which would, in fact, prove to be stupid and detrimental to their own future. That is something that India, as a nation, should worry about.
The second point is that, at some point of time, India will have to play a role in this. It will have to be a part of the countries that will play a role to bring about a solution to this problem. Getting both the Palestinians and Israelis to the table without causing each other more harm than they already have should be India’s main role. This is imperative because, if it does not happen, unlike the Ukraine-Russia war, this may take on a much larger dimension with a lot of countries getting involved. So, the sooner some kind of a compromise is negotiated, the better!