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Mainstream, VOL LII, No 31, July 26, 2014

Modi Government deviates from Historical Stand on Palestine

Saturday 26 July 2014

by Vivek Kumar Srivastava

Not so much enthusiasm has been exhibited by the Modi Government in criticising the lethal aggression on Gaza, where hundreds have been killed by Israel. This explicitly shows that the government has shifted from the historically established Indian stand on Palestine.

The Modi Government seems to have discovered that the cause of the Palestinian struggle is almost over with the further inference that the fate of the Palestinians cannot be influenced by India; hence it is better to align with Israel where more benefits are likely to be obtained, with further realisation that Israel is closer to it in ideological and pragmatic terms.

Thus India parts with its moralistic role in global politics. This is also parting with the leadership of the developing and oppressed nations which have looked up to India as the saviour on many issues. This shows that India under the new dispensation has different goals from the previous governments.

Historically, India was always supportive of the Palestinian cause in which it had assigned the maximum importance to the PLO which was treated by it as the sole representative of the Palestinians. India thought that it was a secular organisation. India was the first non- Arab country to have recognised the PLO. India was instrumental in raising, coordinating and supporting the Palestine issue at every level. Indian support was complete and visible at every global platform. Its foundation was laid by Pandit Nehru but it flourished most during the time of Mrs Indira Gandhi. Rajiv Gandhi and P.V. Narasimha Rao had certain soft corner about Israel. This was expressed when India got the right opportunity, and recognised Israel in 1992 without any hesitation. This relationship was strengthened during Atal Behari Vajpayee’s time but dilution of the Palestine cause was not so sharp.

There are three stages of India-Palestinian relationship which commensurate inversely to Indian relationship with Israel. From the happy days of Nehru-Indira to the mild days of Rajiv- Rao-Manmohan Singh, the Modi Government in the present phase has identified Israel as its strong ally in West Asia rather than taking up the cause of the Palestinians. All five Prime Ministers of the Congress never accepted this line of thinking on West Asia. Even Rajiv Gandhi and Narasimha Rao never deviated from this policy. Atal Behari Vajpayee’s government veered close to Israel but it too followed the old stand on Palestine. Modi has departed from that position. There is a definite shift in the govern-ment’s stand on Palestine since the years gone by. This shift is visible if it is contrasted even with the previous NDA Government.

The MEA has issued a statement on July 10, 2014 that “India is deeply concerned at the steep escalation of violence between Israel and Palestine, particularly heavy air strikes in Gaza, resulting in tragic loss of civilian lives and heavy damage to property. At the same time, India is alarmed at the cross-border provocations resulting from rocket attacks against targets in parts of Israel.”

 The statement shows that India has taken the view that both parties are responsible for the situation. This stand is different from the one on previous occasions when Israel was thought to be more aggressive in its objective.

The MEA statement is reflected in Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj’s statement in the Rajya Sabha on July 21 where she stated that “we fully support the Palestinian cause while maintaining good relations with Israel”. This explicitly suggests that the government has shifted from its categorical support to Palestine to equal treatment to both Israel and Palestine.

The NDA Government of Atal Behari Vajpayee had not deviated from the well-established stand on Palestine as enunciated by Nehru and Indira. On December 3, 2003 in response to an unstarred question no. 352 in Parliament, Minister of State Digvijay Singh clarified the Indian position on Yasser Arafat. In a statement at the UN Security Council on September 15, 2003, the Indian Permanent Representative referring to this issue inter alia stated: “India has consistently regarded President Arafat as the elected leader of the Palestinian people and symbol of their cause. His expulsion and removal from the scene would be indefensible in inter-national law. It represents an affront to the Palestinian peopleas well as the international community at large and must attract the severest condemnation worldwide. Apart from serving no constructive purpose, it would negate all efforts towards reconciliation. More important, it is likely to lead to an increased wave of anger and resultant violence in the region. Such a move is bound to exacerbate the situation and could prove politically counter-productive. It would definitely have a negative impact on the Middle East peace process.’’

Similarly in response to an unstarred question no. 4802 answered on April 24, 2002, Minister of State Omar Abdullah stated that “Israeli defence forces have launched incursions into Palestinian controlled towns and villages in West Bank and Gaza. Government are deeply concerned at the recent escalation in violence and tension in the region and have called for immediate end to Israeli incursions and also end to the cycle of terror, violence, incitement and provocation.”

On May 16, 2002 replying to an unstarred question no 5324, Omar Abdullah stressed peace was the only solution. “Government remain concerned at the ongoing cycle of violence and terror in West Bank, Gaza, Jerusalem and Israel. Government are in touch with the countries in the region on these developments. Government have stressed that there is no alternative to peace and a solution has to come through negotiations. When President Yasser Arafat had been under siege of the Israeli defence forces in the Presidential compound at Ramallah, the Minister of External Affairs had spoken to Mr Shimon Peres, Deputy Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister of Israel, and had advised him that such action will not help the cause of peace. We are happy to note that as a result of the pressure exerted by the international community, including India, the siege on President Yasser Arafat has since been lifted. We consider it a positive step in the direction of peace.”

These statements show that Atal Behari Vajpayee’s government had followed the established stand of Indian foreign policy on Palestine as it had treated Israel’s activities not in equal terms with those of the Palestinians

For the Modi Government, Israel is more precious. The adoption of a new ally is against the long-term interests of the country as it may lead to a religious divide in India. Pandit Nehru had stated in the Lok Sabha on August 14, 1958 that “our approach is not inimical to any country there. It is friendly to all countries, but our sym-pathies are with the Arab countries (and) I earnestly hope that in regard to West Asia an attempt will be made not to think in terms of a military approach of suppressing the people there.” Prime Minister Modi should come forward to say like this but the Indian Government of today is closer to Israel than the old friends. The deviation is clear and now well-established.

Dr Vivek Kumar Srivastava is the Vice-Chairman, CSSP, Kanpur. He can be contacted at e-mail: vpy1000 @yahoo.co.in