Mainstream, VOL LIII No 29 New Delhi July 11, 2015
On India, Israel and Palestine
Saturday 11 July 2015, by
Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj announced recently that Prime Minister Narendra Modi would visit Israel. Shri Modi will be the first Indian Prime Minister to do so. Indo-Israeli relations have witnessed a sharp upswing since the present government came to power and there has been an unprecedented level of bilateral visits by senior Ministers from India to Israel and vice-versa.
The Israel-Palestine conflict is an unresolved issue of international politics dating from the end of the First World War. Palestine was a part of the Ottoman Empire. During the First World War the Ottoman Empire sided with Germany and was defeated. It was then dissolved. Its successor, the Republic of Turkey, transferred Palestine to the British Empire. In 1917, British Foreign Minister Arthur Balfour issued what is known as the Balfour Declaration for the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people. In 1947, the United Nations General Assembly approved a plan to partition the Palestinian land and proposed a Jewish state and an Arab state on that land. The Arab state of Palestine included the West Bank, East Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip and some other territories. The Jewish state of Israel was established in 1948 and several wars between the Israelis and Arabs followed. In the Six-Day War of 1967, the Israelis captured and occupied the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip.
Mahatma Gandhi wrote in the Harijan: “The cry for a national home for the Jews does not make much appeal to me. Why should they not, like other peoples on earth, make that country their home where they are born and where they earn their livelihood? Palestine belongs to the Arabs in the same sense that England belongs to the English or France to the French. It is wrong and inhuman to impose the Jews on the Arabs. What is going on in Palestine today cannot be justified by any moral code of conduct. Surely it would be a crime against humanity to reduce the proud Arabs so that Palestine can be delivered to the Jews partly or wholly as their national home. The nobler course would be to insist on a just treatment of the Jews wherever they are born and bred. The Jews born in France are French in precisely the same sense that Christians born in France are French.”
India was the first non-Arab country to recognise the Palestinian Liberation Organisation as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people. A PLO office was set up in New Delhi in 1975 and full diplomatic relations were established in 1980.
The United Nations Security Council has condemned repeatedly Israeli depredations in the occupied territories. Last month a United Nations Security Council resolution directed Israel to immediately and completely cease all settlements in the occupied territories including East Jerusalem. Amnesty International has held Israel guilty of war crimes and murder of thousands of innocent Palestinians and demolition of their homes.
In 1992, during my tenure in the Ministry of External Affairs, I was asked by Prime Minister Narasimha Rao to ensure the establishment of diplomatic relations with Israel so that India could assist the Palestinian cause in a more efficient manner. I met with the PLO Chairman, Yasser Arafat, at his headquarters in Tunis. Chairman Arafat told me that he had no objection if we established diplomatic relations with Israel. I then had a meeting with the Israeli Foreign Minister, Shimon Peres, at the United Nations and diplomatic relations with Israel followed. After 1992, India continued its unstin-ted support to the Palestinian people in their quest for a strong and viable state and provided material as well as technical support to the Palestinian Government in their efforts at nation-building.
At present, almost all countries of the world recognise the State of Palestine with the exception of the United States and some of its Western allies. Even in the West support for the Palestinian cause is increasing. Ireland, the United Kingdom, France and Italy have voted recently for recognition of Palestine as a state. Sweden went further and officially recognised the state of Palestine. It is ironical that while the West, the architect of the Palestinian plight, is finally trying to reach out to the Palestinians, India, the old supporter, has almost vanished from the scene. Last July extended Israeli strikes into the Gaza strip resulted in the death of more than 2000 Palestinians. Yet, our Minister of External Affairs refused to support in Parliament a resolution condemning Israel for these atrocities.
The General Assembly of the United Nations declared the year 2014 as the International Year of Solidarity with the Palestinian People. The objective of the International Year was to promote solidarity with the people of Palestine and generate international support for their inalienable rights which have been denied for too long. The World Peace Council and its affiliate, the All India Peace and Solidarity Organisation, held a Conference in support of the Palestinian cause last July in Panaji. The World Peace Council was formed in 1949 in the aftermath of the Second World War. It has given leadership, been the voice of innumerable struggles for self-determination and has supported national liberation movements across the world. The Father of Goan nationalism, Dr T. B. Cunha, and the eminent historian, Prof D. D. Kosambi, were among the founding members of the All India Peace and Solidarity Organisation. The Goa Conference was addressed by delegates from 27 countries and from several States of India as well as Members of Parliament.
Israel ought to comply with international law and the United Nations resolutions and vacate the occupied Palestinian territories of West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem. All future agreements between India and Israel should explicitly exclude Jewish settlements in the occupied territories.
The author is a former Union Minister.