After a few years of relative peace, Israel and Palestine are once again caught in deadly violent attacks and counter-attacks causing loss of lives, property, homelessness and destitution. The violent conflict between the two countries is into the second week as the United Nations Security Council had an open debate last Sunday, called the “Situation in the Middle East”. The Indian United Nations’ Permanent Representative (UNPR), Ambassador T.S. Tirumurti made a tightrope walk in making a statement on the crisis which left the observers and analysts tearing their hair in comprehending it.
While the statement, in facts and principles, reflected India’s commitment to two-State arrangement, and to peace and human rights; in diplomatic terms, it shows India’s as-usual balancing act. But on a deeper analysis, it shows New Delhi’s continuing confusion about taking clear and categorical positions on international issues.
The Indian UNPR said, “we condemn the indiscriminate rocket firings from Gaza targeting the civilian population in Israel and the retaliatory strikes into Gaza, which have caused immense suffering and resulted in deaths.” He mentioned that India had lost one of its citizens, a caregiver in Ashkelon, 30-year-old Soumya Santosh from Kerala. He further said that, “Immediate de-escalation is the need of the hour, so as to arrest any further slide towards the brink. We urge both sides to show extreme restraint, desist from actions that exacerbate tensions, and refrain from attempts to unilaterally change the existing status-quo, including in East Jerusalem and its neighbourhood”.
In the closed-door meetings of the 15-member UNSC which did not result in any joint statement, prior to the open debate, India had expressed its concern over the violence in Jerusalem, especially on Haram Al-Sharif/Temple Mount during the holy month of Ramzan and over the possible eviction of Palestinian families in Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan in the neighbourhood of East Jerusalem and the Israeli families trying to occupy the property of the evacuees.
Obviously, the eviction process was one of the triggers of Arab protests in the last week of Ramzan. Fearing an unrest, the Israeli forces sieged the Al Aqsa mosque, the third biggest holy cite of Islam and sought to flush out those inside the mosque including worshippers in Ramzan by using tear gas, water cannons, stun grenades etc. The Mosques is claimed both by Muslims and Christians and Jews are not allowed into it. At any rate, the seizure of the mosque in West Bank apparently provoked the Hamas in Gaza strip to fire rockets into Israel territory killing and wounding civilians. In retaliation, Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) started bombing Gaza.
The rocket attacks, above 3000 fired from Gaza, killed 12 people including a soldier, two Thai nationals and an Indian citizen and injured many. In bombing by IDF, so far, as per the available information, 213 people in Gaza were killed, out of which 61 were children 52 women, and about 2000 have been wounded. Around 425 buildings have been destroyed including those housing Associated Press and other international media organisations. Israel claims they have destroyed several rocket launch-pads and have killed many commanders of Hamas.
While many world leaders including US President Joe Biden have urged restrain and a ceasefire, and countries like Egypt and Qatar interlocuting for the same, no cessation of the conflict seems to be on the cards. The Egyptians leaders claim, “we are close and it could be reached in 2 days maximum”. But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asserted that “Israel Defence forces will continue to act as necessary to restore peace and security to all residents of Israel” reiterating his ‘muscular’ approach.
Analysing the Indian stand, we see a lack of clarity in its exposition. Diplomatically, New Delhi seems to have failed to earn the goodwill of either Palestine or Israel, whilst the world leaders keep guessing about where India stands. Netanyahu tweeted his thanks to all those countries that resolutely stood by Israel and its right to self-defence against terrorist attacks by posting their flags, but the tricolour was not one of them.
Let us decode the statement of the India’s Permanent Representative at the UN. New Delhi’s position is that the violence started in East Jerusalem a week back referring to clashes in the Al Aqsa mosque, Seikh Jarrah and Silwan. This means that the rockets fired by Hamas was not the trigger. Second, New Delhi urges both sides to refrain from attempts to unilaterally change the existing status quo, including in East Jerusalem and its neighbourhood. Here it is Israel which is trying to change the status quo by evicting the families and deploying troops in the Mosque compound.
Third, New Delhi is referring to the Mosque as Haram Al-Sharif/Temple Mount, which means both Muslims and Jews have claim to it whereas Palestine believes it is only theirs. New Delhi is endorsing that it is both Jewish and Islamic. Fourth, New Delhi condemns the rocket attacks, rightly so, but there is no mention of retribution by IDF, which, many would say, is heavily disproportionate. Fifth, New Delhi’s support to two-nation theory without mentioning East Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine does not hold water. Observers may call it symbolism and lip-sympathy.
The hard reality of India’s position vis-a-vis the Israel-Palestine conflict is that since 1948, when Palestine was bifurcated and Israel was created, India has been supporting Palestine. Although New Delhi recognised Israel in 1950, it had no diplomatic connection with it. New Delhi continued to support the Palestine cause until BJP came to power in 1998 and again in 2014. With BJP at the helm, New Delhi’s attitude to Israel took a dramatic turn. In fact, it was articulated nicely by Brajesh Mishra, then India’s National Security Adviser, in 2003, which led to the dream of a strategic triangle between Israel, India and the US.
In a speech at a dinner of the American Jewish Committee Mishra said, “Our principal theme here today is a collective remembrance of the horrors of terrorism and a celebration of the alliance of free societies involved in combating this scourge. The US, India and Israel have all been prime targets of terrorism. They have to jointly face the same ugly face of modern-day terrorism”.
In 2014, since Narendra Modi became Prime Minister, he made radical shift of our foreign policy in favour Israel. From 2017, East Jerusalem was no more mentioned in any official communique, and in 2018, Modi visiting Israel, the first Prime Minister of India to do so, de-hyphenated Palestine and Israel. It was perhaps in order as Israel, despite facing New Delhi’s diplomatic indifference, has stood by India in all its wars in 1962,1965, 1971 and 1999 in Kargil.
So, having acknowledged Israel as a friend-in-need, should New Delhi not use its goodwill to stop the violence against the Palestinian civilians, and further occupation of their land, lift the siege of their cities, and remind Israel of the violation of protocols and international agreements? Furthermore, New Delhi should dissuade countries from supporting a terrorist organisation like Hamas. To put it pithily, New Delhi need not disown Palestine and unfriend Israel. —INFA