INDIA AND ISRAEL - PALESTINE ISSUE

MAY 18

Mains   > International relations   >   India and Global Regions   >   India & West Asia

IN NEWS:

  • The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is one of the world's longest-running and most controversial issue.

BACKGROUND:

Early History:

Both Palestinians and Israelis lay claims to the land based on their religious history:

  • In 957 BC, Israelite King Solomon built a temple in Jerusalem for Jewish people.
  • In the following centuries, Jerusalem was invaded by Egyptian and later Roman campaigners. Jewish people fled in large numbers during these centuries, mostly towards Europe.
  • In the 7th Century, Islamic Caliphate army took control of Jerusalem. From about 1517 to 1917, the Ottoman Empire ruled much of the region.

1917-1944:

The current conflict, which began in the early 20th century, is as political as it is religious:

  • 1918: When World War I ended, the British took control of Palestine. The land at the time was inhabited by a Jewish minority and Arab majority.
  • The League of Nations issued a British mandate for Palestine—a document that gave Britain administrative control over the region, and included provisions for establishing a Jewish national homeland in Palestine.
  • The rise of Adolf Hitler and World war II led to the persecution of Jews. Hence, Jewish immigration towards the British mandate gained pace.
  • 1947, the United Nations proposed a plan to partition Palestine into two sections: an independent Jewish state and an independent Arab state. The city of Jerusalem, which was claimed as a capital by both Jews and Palestinian Arabs, was to be an international territory with a special status. Jewish leaders accepted the plan, but many Palestinian Arabs opposed it.

1948-Present:

  • May 1948: Britain withdrew from Palestine and Israel declared itself an independent state. This led to the First Israel-Arab war. Five Arab nations—Jordan, Iraq, Syria, Egypt and Lebanon sided with Palestine. But the war ended with Israel, backed by the US, controlling large area for its nation. Estimated 7 lakh Palestinians became refugees.
  • 1956: Second Israel-Arab war began after Egypt announced nationalisation of the Suez Canal. British, French and Israeli armed forces pushed into Egypt toward the Suez Canal, but Egypt emerged victorious.
  • 1964: Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) was formed for the purpose of establishing a Palestinian Arab state.
  • 1967: Following the Six-Day War, Israel occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank, as well as most of the Syrian Golan Heights, and Gaza and the Egyptian Sinai Peninsula.
  • 1987: First Intifada (means uprising or rebellion) broke out. Soon after it began, Hamas was founded. It is a Sunni-Islamic fundamentalist, militant and nationalist organization.
  • 1993: In a multilateral attempt to end the ongoing violence, Israel and the PLO signed the Oslo Peace Accord. It created a timetable for a Middle East peace process and a plan for an interim Palestinian government in parts of Gaza and the West Bank.
  • 2000: The Second Palestinian Intifada began. Riots and attacks subsequently broke out, putting an end to the once-promising peace process.
  • 2006: Hamas won the Palestinian legislative elections, but continued its fight against Israel.
  • 2017: The Donald Trump administration of the US recognised Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and announced shifting of its embassy from Tel Aviv to this city.
  • 2021: Israel barricaded Damascus Gate Plaza, a popular gathering place for Palestinians during Ramzan. Israel also limited the number of people who can prayer at Al-Aqsa mosque. Clashes erupt and spreads to Gaza and the West Bank.

 

INDIA’S RELATIONS WITH ISRAEL:

India officially recognised Israel in 1950. But the two countries established full diplomatic ties only in 1992, following the end of cold war. Today, the relation encompasses a wide array of economic, technological, and strategic partnerships:

  • Arms trade:
    • Between 2015-2019, weapons imports from Israel increased by 175 %. Today, Israel is second only to Russia as India’s largest weapons supplier. India is also the largest buyer of Israeli weapons, buying 46 % of Israel’s exports.
  • Security-defense cooperation:
    • Besides arms trade, both countries are part of the Joint Working Group on Counterterrorism and have signed agreements on mutual legal assistance in criminal matters, cooperation in homeland security, protection of classified material, and cybersecurity.
  • Trade and commerce:
    •  India is the tenth-largest trade partner of Israel, and the third-largest from Asia. Bilateral trade has increased from $200 million in 1992 to $5.84 billion in 2018.
    • Israel is interested in participating in India’s Make in India Program and has also expressed a keen interest to invest in India’s IT sector.
  • Technological cooperation:
    • The countries have set up the India Israel Innovation Initiative fund (I4F) to support initiatives in areas like surgical devices and water, energy and cellular phone.
    • Israel Space Agency and the ISRO are partnering in the development of electric propulsion systems for small satellites, among other systems for outer space.
  • Human resource development:
    • Israel is opening 30 centres of excellence across India.
    • Indian Police Service trainees visit the Israel National Police Academy every year for training.
  • Diplomatic:
    • India opened its embassy at Tel Aviv in 1992.
    • Following Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Israel visit in 2017, the first by a sitting Indian PM, several top levels visits have occurred between the two countries.
  • Cooperation in agriculture:
    • In 2006, India and Israel signed a Memorandum of Understanding, leading to the Indo-Israeli Agricultural Project which focused on increasing India’s agricultural productivity and water use efficiency.
  • Cooperation with states:
    • Israel is cooperating with several Indian states in areas such as power, horticulture, irrigation, and agriculture
    • For eg: In 2020, Uttar Pradesh and Israel governments signed a ‘plan of cooperation’ to resolve water crisis in Bundelkhand region.
  • Cultural:
    • Yoga and Bollywood are used as a means to promote people-to-people participation in India. In fact, some bollywood movies shot in Israel were partly funded by the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office and the Ministry of Tourism, with the expectation that a positive portrayal of Israel in Hindi films would boost tourism from India.

 

INDIA’S RELATIONS WITH PALESTINE:

India’s solidarity with the Palestinian people and its attitude to the Palestinian question was given voice during our freedom struggle by Mahatma Gandhi. In October 1937, the Indian National Congress passed a resolution that declared its support for the Palestinian national movement.

India was the first Non-Arab State to recognize PLO as sole and legitimate representative of the Palestinian people in 1974. India recognized the State of Palestine in 1988. Since then, India has cautiously maintained its official commitment to the Palestinian cause, while building its relations with Israel. Some of the areas of cooperation include:

  • Diplomatic:
    • In 1996, India opened its Representative Office to the Palestine Authority in Gaza, which later was shifted to Ramallah in 2003.
    • There have been regular bilateral visits between India and Palestine. Palestine heads have visited India several times.
  • Developmental aid and assistance:
    • In 2016 India pledged USD 1.25 million to the UN relief agency for Palestinian refugees as it voiced concern over the fragile situation and ongoing conflicts in the Middle East.
    • India has been contributing material and technical assistance to the Palestinian people. Eg: In 2015, India announced five projects worth $17.79 million for Palestine. The projects include a Techno Park, Palestine Institute of Diplomacy, and India-Palestine Centre of Excellence in ICT.
  • Memorandum of Understanding:
    • In 1997, an MoU between India and Palestine was signed, which provides for promoting scientific, technical and industrial cooperation including provision of training facilities in specialized areas and undertaking of mutually agreed projects.
  • Human resource development:
    • India offers scholarships for Palestinian Nationals under initiatives such as the General Cultural Scholarship Scheme (GCSC) and ITEC.
    • With the Government of India’s aid, several projects were completed in the field of higher education. Eg: The Jawaharlal Nehru Library at the Al Azhar University in Gaza
  • Cultural:
    • Over the years, several cultural activities, including film shows and photo exhibitions have been organized by the Representative Office of India in various Palestinian cities in addition to screening of documentaries prepared by Public Diplomacy division in local TV channels, local schools and youth clubs.

 

INDIA'S DE-HYPHENATION POLICY:

  • In the past, progress in the Israel-Palestine dispute was a key factor for India’s rapprochement with Israel. But since 2014, the Narendra Modi led NDA government has instituted a policy toward Israel called de-hyphenation.
  • Dehyphenation implies that India’s relationship with Israel would stand on its own merits, independent and separate from India’s relationship with the Palestinians. It would no longer be India’s relationship with Israel-Palestine, but India’s relationship with Israel, and India’s relationship with the Palestinians.
  • Examples of this strategy is seen in:
    • Diplomatic visits: Previous prominent visits by top Indian leaders combined Israel and Palestine in a single tour. However, this was not followed when PM Modi visited Israel in 2017.
    • Voting in the UN: In 2014, India voted against Israel and in favour of the UNHRC resolution that instituted an inquiry report into the Gaza violence. But in 2015, India abstained from a UNHRC vote against Israel.

 

INDIA’S CONCERNS OVER ISRAEL-PALESTINE CONFLICT:

  • Destabilises West Asia: The conflict has the potential to become a full-fledged war. Besides the human casualties, a war can affect global supply chain which is already weakened by the pandemic. 
  • Complicates India’s international relations: Due to the significant defence and technological ties with Israel, India cannot ignore Israel too.  However, India cannot afford to ignore its crucial ties with the opponents of Israel, such as Iran and the Gulf countries.
  • Threatens the safety of diaspora: India’s presence in the Gulf is distinctly shaped by its massive expat community there. Armed conflicts put their life in danger.
  • Affects India’s energy security: 70% of India’s imported energy comes from West Asia. Hence, a conflict can potentially can create an oil crisis in India.
  • Gross human rights violations: Over the years, both Israel and Palestine have been accused of gross human rights violations. Further conflicts will only worsen the situation.
  • Hinders India’s Central Asian ambitions: A conflicting West Asia and Arab world can affect India’s ambitions of expanding trade and connectivity with Central Asia and Eastern European countries.
  • Could affect Indian society: India has the largest Muslim population outside Muslim-majority countries. India’s inaction in the event of a conflict could affect the sentiments of the Muslim community.

CONCLUSION:

At the United Nations Security Council, India reiterated its strong support for the just Palestinian cause and its unwavering commitment to the two-state solution. But India stopped short of making any direct reference to the status of Jerusalem or the future Israel-Palestine borders. Thereby, many argue that India has chosen the sensible way of saying what is acceptable to both parties.

Back in March 2020, The UN started exploring ways to engage India for mediation between Israel and Palestine. India, which has long enjoyed extensive ties to the Palestinian movement and has more than a working rapport with the Israeli government, may find itself in a unique position to mediate an end to this crisis. Also, given the seeming inability or unwillingness of other great powers to enter the fray, India may well be poised to play a significant role in bringing lasting peace to the region.

PRACTICE QUESTION:

Q. Relations with Israel and Palestine over the years highlight the pragmatism of India’s foreign policy. Elaborate?