The First Signs of Change
As has been pointed out already, in December 1991 India was among the countries that voted in favor of the annulment of the U.N. resolution, which equated Zionism with racism. On January 22, 1992, Giora Becher, Israel’s Counselor in Bombay, was invited to New Delhi for a meeting with the Indian foreign secretary, J.N. Dixit. It was an unprecedented meeting, at which Becher was advised that it was India’s intention to bring about an improvement of its relations with Israel in the near future.
It had not yet been determined whether Israel would be asked to establish a consulate general in New Delhi in the first stage, or if full diplomatic relations would be established immediately, which would naturally entail the establishment of an embassy. The ultimate decision, he was advised, was in the hands of the prime minister himself, and it would be made within a matter of months.
Indian foreign secretary had suggested that we allow India to join in the “Peace Process” and that within three months they would solve their internal problems, overcome the opposition to normalization of relations with Israel
However, what India was prepared to do at this point did not satisfy Israel’s demands. On January 23, this writer was privileged to be visiting in Beijing to attend the ceremony in celebration of the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and Israel, which was scheduled for the following day. A reporter of an Indian News Agency asked me if Israel would agree to India’s participation in the Middle East “peace process,” despite the fact that full diplomatic relations had not yet been established between the two countries. He received a decisively negative reply and was told that such participation would become possible only after the establishment of full diplomatic relations with Israel. On January 26, the same reporter received a similar response from Israel’s foreign minister, David Levy. These interchanges were reported in the Indian news media.5
The Indian government made another, somewhat strange, effort to postpone the establishment of diplomatic relations with Israel. On January 28, the Israeli consul in Bombay called to inform us that Prime Minister Rao would be traveling to New York, and he suggested that Israel’s foreign minister, David Levy, join him for a discussion there. This face-to-face meeting would make it easier for him to explain his difficulties to Levy. It was further suggested that, if Levy was unable to travel to New York himself, he could dispatch an authorized representative. I ordered Becher to reply that this suggestion was unacceptable. If Becher was insufficiently qualified for them, the Indian ambassador to the United States was welcomed to contact our ambassador in Washington and invite him to meet with Prime Minister Rao.
Later on Becher called back to advise me once again that the Indian foreign secretary had suggested that we allow India to join in the “Peace Process” and that within three months they would solve their internal problems, overcome the opposition to normalization of relations with Israel, which were still prevalent within the Congress Party, and establish full diplomatic relations with us. I made it perfectly clear to Becher that this was unacceptable to us, and I asked him to explain unambiguously to Mr. Dixit that our experience of the past forty years taught us not to believe them. Our suggestion was that they first solve their problems and that, when they were ready, they should call us.
At noon the next day, January 29, 1992, Consul Becher called once again and reported that foreign secretary Dixit had called him from New Delhi and announced that the Indian authorities intended to publish a statement in three hours hence to the effect that they had decided to elevate the level of relations between our two countries to that of embassies, and that they expected us to publish an identical statement at the same time. Furthermore, India was not making this normalization of relations conditional upon its being invited to participate in the multilateral convention on the Middle East which was convening in Moscow, but nonetheless hoped that Israel would not oppose such participation.
Becher asked the Indian foreign secretary for a minor postponement of the scheduled time of announcement to allow me sufficient time to inform Israel’s foreign minister and the director general of its foreign ministry, who were both in Moscow at the time, of this new development. I asked Becher to advise Mr. Dixit that I would not convey anything to our representatives in Moscow before I received the exact wording of their proposed announcement in writing.
The way in which the decision of Indias government to establish full diplomatic relations with Israel materialized and was published, was surprising.
Two hours later Becher called back and dictated to me the wording of the announcement. I sent it off to our foreign minister in Moscow. The announcement on the establishment of full diplomatic relations between India and Israel was published simultaneously in New Delhi, Moscow and Jerusalem that same evening. Only six drama-filled hours passed between the initial phone call from the Indian foreign secretary to the Israel consul in Bombay and the publication of the official announcement on the establishment of relations.
The establishment of diplomatic relations with two huge countries – China and India, which together are home to about half of the earth’s population– within one week, is no mean achievement. It is doubtful if any similar development has taken place in the annals of Israel’s diplomacy, except for the events of the first days after the achievement of statehood, when the United States, the Soviet Union and other countries announced their recognition of Israel one after the other.