Spotlight West Asia

India and the Conflict in Gaza

04 Aug, 2014    ·   4591

Ambassador Ranjit Gupta analyses India's position on the ongoing hostilities in the Gaza Strip

Ranjit Gupta
Ranjit Gupta
Distinguished Fellow
The creation of Israel in Palestine was a Western venture to expiate their guilt for their historical ill treatment of the Jews, and, at the time it was finally done, also to implant a permanent base for safeguarding their own interests for the future in the vital West Asian region. The Western ‘divide and rule’ policies and the arbitrary drawing of boundaries were at the heart of imperial control of colonised peoples and territories. The legacy thereof continues. Unfortunately, history and international relations are not about fairness but about the exercise of power in one’s own interest.

Meanwhile, Israel has become fully integrated economically and politically into the international comity of nations. Many non-Western countries, including China and India, have developed a strong relationship with Israel. The leading Arab country, Egypt, and Jordan have had diplomatic and stronger than merely normal relations with Israel for decades; Turkey had exceptionally close relations with Israel until a few years ago; so did Iran under the Shah; Oman and Qatar have had quasi-diplomatic relations with Israel; Tunisia and Morocco have had interactions with Israel; several GCC countries, and Saudi Arabia in particular, have encouraged an increasingly close working relationship between their intelligence services and that of Israel’s, especially over the past three-four years.  

The current hostilities in Gaza are essentially a war between Hamas and Israel and not a war between Israel and Palestine; that is how governments of many Arab countries as well as the Palestinian National Authority are viewing the conflict; and they, not excluding Fatah, are also treating it as an intrinsic element of the current strong confrontation between the Muslim Brotherhood, of which Hamas is an offshoot, and its Arab opponents. Egypt and Saudi Arabia consider Hamas a terrorist organisation. In strong contrast to each of the earlier such confrontations, except for Qatar’s support, Hamas is politically isolated in the Arab world this time. Another stumbling block is that Hamas does not officially recognise the existence of Israel. The uncomfortable truth is that each of these parties, without exception, is cynically pursuing its own broader geopolitical agenda.

The minimum fundamental requirement for meaningful forward movement on the Palestinian issue, including the lifting of the Israeli economic blockade of Gaza, is substantive unity amongst the Arabs. The Arab world has enormous financial clout which has never been concertedly used for the Palestinian cause. In the absence of this, the rest of the non-Western world cannot meaningfully pressurise Israel. 

It is all these factors that have made possible Israel getting away with the extreme brutality of its current onslaught on Gaza.

This broad brush backdrop must be kept in mind in evaluating India’s policy in relation to ongoing events in Gaza.

What is the objective of a foreign policy? It should primarily be to promote and protect the country’s national interests, national security and national welfare. An important guiding principle must be to avoid taking stances that will have zero impact on realities on the ground but which could adversely affect important bilateral relationships. Though difficult, emotion and ideological biases must be eschewed.
The establishment of diplomatic relations with Israel in 1992 was a right decision courageously taken by the Narasimha Rao Government as part of a sorely needed revamp of India’s economic and foreign policies. Since then, Israel has emerged as a particularly important defence equipment supplier and a multi-sectoral hi-tech partner of vital strategic significance. However, this has not come in the way of India maintaining excellent relationships with Arab countries in general; and with the GCC countries, in particular, the latter developed mainly in the past decade and a half. This relationship is in fact India’s most spectacular foreign policy success. Meanwhile, India continues its strong traditional support for the Palestinian cause consciously, deliberately and rightly. There is no contradiction in simultaneously pursuing these approaches that are politico-strategic imperatives for India.

In the context of the current crisis in Gaza, India has maintained complete continuity with past stances in relevant international fora and in statements made by the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA). Nevertheless, India’s reactions and policies have come in for strong domestic criticism focused on two counts: first, regarding mention of the use of rockets by Hamas in the MEA spokesperson’ statement of July 10. In 2008, when Israeli retaliatory actions killed 1417 Palestinians in a much shorter conflict, it was mentioned in the MEA spokesperson’s statement on 27 December, 2008. Both times, these statements accorded factually with observable ground realities.

Another reason for criticism is rejection of a demand for a Parliamentary Resolution; there was neither a demand nor any initiative for a resolution when the UPA government was in power. It is wrong to politicise issues of national interest. Adopting resolutions on foreign policy issues should be avoided as it does not promote solutions but only constrains governmental flexibility and options. However, discussions in the parliament should not be prevented. 

There have been demands to stop buying military equipment from Israel. This would hurt Israel only marginally but will be an utterly devastating self-inflicted wound on ourselves; and no Indian government has or should consider such an utterly absurd and irresponsible proposal.

India’s stance is highly unlikely to adversely affect relations with important Arab countries as these are based on symbiotic mutually beneficial pragmatism, not emotion.