The conflict in Gaza is not new. This is not something which has happened suddenly. Since the creation of Israel, the region has been plagued with bloodshed. Uncountable lives have been lost on both sides of the divide.
India is the largest customer of Israeli military equipment and is Israel’s largest defence market, accounting for almost fifty percent of Israeli sales.
It could be argued though that the sheer magnitude of the current crisis is massive. Since the launch of Operation Protective Edge by the IDF (Israel Defense Force) on 8th July, the scale of violence in Gaza has been unprecedented. The United Nations estimates the current death toll at well over 1,000.
In the midst of this carnage, the Indian political establishment has found itself in a peculiar position. In trying to act too smart, they seem to have found themselves caught between a rock and a hard place.
Amidst the protests that she was impeding free speech, Sushma Swaraj’s refusal to discuss the contentious issue in Parliament was a well-thought out, clever move and needs to be applauded. Those screaming ‘murder’ somehow failed to miss an important point in what the Minister of External Affairs had pointed out: both the combatants, Israel and Palestine are friendly countries. Any discussion in Parliament would invariably lead to strong words against any of the sides. This really wouldn’t have benefited India in any which way.
India has crucial strategic ties with Israel, and these ties can’t be just wished away. India is the largest customer of Israeli military equipment and is Israel’s largest defence market, accounting for almost fifty percent of Israeli sales. The two countries have come much closer since the dawn of liberalization, since they have been both victims of terrorism. Military agreements have also been signed.
India has traditionally supported the self-determination of Palestine and was the first non-Arab country to recognize the Palestine Liberation Organization’s authority.
On the other hand, India and Palestine have cultural linkages. India has traditionally supported the self-determination of Palestine and was the first non-Arab country to recognize the Palestine Liberation Organization’s authority. The years after independence saw our government forging major ties with Yasir Arafat. Additionally, there is the question of India’s relations with the greater Arab World. Jeopardizing Indian relations with Palestine runs the risk of spoiling our connection with the Gulf. That is something which we cannot afford and it is not just due to our dependence on them for oil, but also because of the large expatriate Indian population present in all the Gulf nations.
Keeping all this in mind, it has to be said that Swaraj played it smart. Ideologues can weep about strong stands, but this is international relations here. It sounds selfish to say it, but our own nation’s self-interest comes before ideology. The hard and cold facts are these: both Israel and Palestine are crucial to us. We cannot afford to jeopardize relations with any of them.
India’s crucial vote against Israel, at the United Nations Humans Rights Council, needs to be looked at, from this perspective. It is true that the only country who voted against the resolution calling for an inquiry into human rights violation in Gaza was the United States. However, it is equally true that a large number of countries also abstained from voting. India’s decision of voting against Israel is perplexing, especially considering it had earlier abstained from voting for a resolution seeking probe into Sri Lankan war crimes, citing that ‘the resolution would hinder efforts rather than contribute constructively’.
India’s decision of voting against Israel is perplexing, especially considering it had earlier abstained from voting for a resolution seeking probe into Sri Lankan war crimes, citing that ‘the resolution would hinder efforts rather than contribute constructively’.
As Jagannathan points out, “Whatever the short-term benefits of voting against Israel, the long-term consequences are going to be negative. While there is no doubt that there are human rights issues are involved, the UNHCR vote was purely political in nature. It had more brutal human rights violators backing it than genuine human rights defenders.
For example, the resolution was moved by Pakistan and the entire Muslim world, apart from Russia and China. Do these countries have even a nodding acquaintance with human rights? Countries with more concern for such rights actually abstained. Among them: UK, France, Germany, Japan, Italy and South Korea.”
Putting in our lot behind countries with less than stellar human rights records isn’t a good idea. Whatever may our intentions have been, it gives other countries a stick to beat us with. Worse, it has the scope to severely damage relations with Israel. While some citizens of the country would like nothing better than that, the unfortunate truth is Israel is here to stay. Historians can debate endlessly about whether the birth of Israel was justified, but right now, fortunately or unfortunately, Israel is the only democracy in the Middle-East (as certified by Freedom House), and it really does not do for the world’s largest democracy to burn their bridges with Israel.