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India’s stand and Arab silence on Gaza Conflict

Replying to a short duration discussion in Rajya Sabha on July 21, The External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj denied the opposition’s call for suspension of all military purchases from Israel and raising the issue at the United Nations. She said “We fully support the Palestinian cause while maintaining good relations with Israel”.

One reason why external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj rejected calls for discussions and a Parliament resolution on the ongoing conflict in Gaza could be the good relation she and other senior leaders keep with Israel.

Mrs. Sushma  Swaraj was the chief of India-Israeli Parliamentary Friendship Forum in the past and has visited Tel Aviv in this capacity. Also, she and home minister Rajnath Singh are expected to visit Israel later this year.

Many BJP leaders have links with Israel. Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Tel Aviv as the chief minister of Gujarat and Gujarat has old diamond trade ties with Israel. In fact, diamond trading constitutes almost half of India-Israel business.

Transport and rural development minister Nitin Gadkari too visited Israel three years ago when he was the BJP chief.

Voting on UNHRC resolution on Gaza:

On July 23, India voted in favour of a resolution condemning violence in Gaza at the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva. Urging for an “immediate ceasefire”, India called on Israel and Palestine to start a process of “peaceful dialogue”.

The resolution which came down heavily on Israel was co-sponsored by Pakistan among other countries. It was adopted by 29 votes in favour, 17 abstained and the US was the only country which voted against.

Along with India, countries that voted in favour were Pakistan, China, Maldives, Russia, South Africa and Brazil among others. UK, France, Germany, Japan, Italy, South Korea were among the 17 countries which abstained.

A government that stubbornly refused to pass a resolution in Parliament against Israel’s military action in Gaza, even in the face of adjournments and disruptions by a near-united Opposition, went ahead and raised its hand in favour of a UN resolution.

The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) justified this contradictory action by saying that “Israel is a nation with which our ties are steadily increasing. But that doesn’t mean that we will carry their can everywhere. And they know it well

Also, bilateral friendship is one thing, but stands taken at multilateral level are another; and the pro-Israeli policies practiced by top BJP leaders in the past are unlikely to change India’s well-articulated position with regard to the plight of the Palestinian people in global level.

Officials justified the government’s stand by pointing out that India balanced its interests by bailing out Israel in Parliament and at the same time fulfilling its multilateral obligations by supporting the UN resolution.

Ex-foreign secretary Mr. Kanwal Sibal said India’s relationship with Israel was independent of the stand that Delhi takes and will continue to take on crises like Gaza in the long run. “We have huge stakes in the Arab region. Israel was isolated in the resolution except for support from the US. Therefore, there was no question of India taking a different stand…”

Israel hails India ties in ‘difficult period’

Israeli deputy ambassador to the UK, Mr. Eitan Na’eh, said, “We have a warm diplomatic relationship between Israel and India, which since the establishment of formal ties in 1992 has shown the fruits of economic cooperation and cultural exchange. We are now trying to also foster tri-lateral British, Israeli and Indian, economic ties”.

He also said that Jews have lived in India over 2,000 years and have never been discriminated against. “This is something unparalleled in Jewish history.”

In recent years, Israel and India have made great progress forward as economic partners, working together in everything from alternative technology to space exploration. The growing exchange of ideas and cultures between Israel and India, between Jews, Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs is what drives Israel forward to the peaceful future.

Talking about the new round of violence between Israel and Palestinians, the Israeli deputy ambassador said, “We want peace in our region to look like the amazing ties that the Indian Jewish Association has fostered between Indians and Jews, two immigrant communities in this country, but also about the harmonious and peaceful existence that Jews have always enjoyed in India. We hope that Hamas will soon agree to a ceasefire and also that we can soon return to the negotiating table to continue working towards an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel and have peace with it.

Mr. Eitan Na’eh was speaking against the backdrop of British foreign secretary Philip Hammonds warning that the West was “losing sympathy” with Israel over civilian casualties in Gaza.

Indian High Commissioner to the UK, Mr. Ranjan Mathai, who has also served as Indian ambassador in Israel in the past, highlighted the bond of democracy between the two countries.

How India should proceed ?

Currently India-Israel relationship is based on, pure and cold strategic business. But we have to consider some of the following facts-

Next only to South Asia, West Asia matters most to us regarding the foreign policy. Because from there nearly eight lakh expatriate Indian workers are making their living. Remittance from those workers constitutes more than half of our total foreign exchange earnings that provide the means to buy arms from Israel.

Their safety is crucially dependent on the Arab goodwill that we have patiently built with Arab and Iranian regimes, monarchist or republican, revolutionary or Islamist. The region is the second or third most important destination for our exports. And it is from there that we source 70 per cent of our oil imports.

The issue that most does unite these fractious nations of West Asia and Iran is Israel.

Mr. Jawaharlal Nehru recognised that Palestine was also home to a large and growing number of Jews. So he invited both Palestinian and Zionist representatives to the Asian Relations Conference in March 1947. But the two clashed and it was left to Nehru to bring them together. Later Jawaharlal Nehru did it and the audience burst into thunderous applause when the heads of the two delegations shook hands.

Owing to the immense foresight and sheer goodness of Jawaharlal Nehru, we made the mark on the West Asian and Iranian consciousness, which was till recently an indelible.  

But in future we have to proceed in such a way that, we should able to protect our citizens working in West Asia without severing the ties with Israel or Palestine.

The Arab silence on Gaza:

Battling Palestinian militants in Gaza two years ago, Israel found itself pressed from all sides by unfriendly Arab neighbours to end the fighting.

The Arab Spring was a series of anti-government protests, uprisings and armed rebellions that spread across the Middle East in early 2011. First successful uprising in Tunisia against former leader Zine El Abidine Ben Ali inspired similar anti-government protests in other Arab countries. 

After the military ouster of the Islamist government in Cairo (Egypt) last year, Egypt has led a new coalition of Arab states — including Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan — that has effectively lined up with Israel in its fight against Hamas which is Islamist movement that controls the Gaza Strip.

Although Egypt is traditionally the key go-between in any talks with Hamas, the government in Cairo this time surprised Hamas by publicly proposing a cease-fire agreement that met most of Israel’s demands and none from the Palestinian group.

Right now the Egyptian fight against the forces of political Islam and the Israeli struggle against Palestinian militants were nearly identical.

Egyptian officials have directly or implicitly blamed Hamas instead of Israel for Palestinian deaths in the fighting even when, for example, UN schools have been hit by Israeli shells.

And the pro-government Egyptian news media have continued to rail against Hamas as a tool of a regional Islamist plot to destabilise Egypt and the region. Egypt has also infuriated Gazans by continuing its policy of shutting down tunnels for cross-border smuggling into the Gaza Strip and keeping border crossings closed, which led to a scarcity of food, water and medical supplies.

Egypt and other Arab states, especially Saudi Arabia and UAE, also allied with Israel in a common opposition to Iran, a rival regional power that has a history of funding and arming Hamas.

But the Egyptian officials arguing that the new government is maintaining its support for the Palestinian people despite its deteriorating relations with Hamas. “We have a historical responsibility toward the Palestinians and that is not related to our stance on any specific faction,” said a senior Egyptian diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity. “Hamas is not Gaza and Gaza is not Palestine.”

The dynamic has inverted all expectations of the Arab Spring uprisings. As recently as 18 months ago, most analysts in Israel, Washington and the Palestinian territories expected the popular uprisings to make the Arab governments more responsive to their citizens and therefore more sympathetic to the Palestinians and more hostile to Israel. But instead of becoming more isolated, Israel’s government has emerged for the moment as an unexpected beneficiary of the Arab Spring movement and now tacitly supported by the leaders of the Egypt, Saudi Arebia and UAE as an ally in their common fight against political Islam.

According to Egyptian officials the Egyptian military and Red Crescent have delivered medical supplies and other aid to Gaza. Cairo continues to keep open lines of communication with Hamas, including allowing a senior Hamas official, Moussa Abu Marzouq, to reside in Cairo.

Some analysts argue that Egypt and its Arab allies are trying to balance their dislike for Hamas against their (Egypt and its Arab allies) citizens’ emotional support for the Palestinians, a balancing act that could grow more challenging as the Gaza carnage mounts.

The pendulum of the Arab Spring has swung in Israel’s favour, just like it had earlier swung in the opposite direction but the story is not finished at this point.

Gaza War

Gaza War

It refers to any of three conflicts between Israel and the Hamas-controlled Palestinian territory in the Gaza Strip

  1. Operation Cast Lead (2008–09)
  2. Operation Pillar of Defense (2012)
  3. Operation Protective Edge (Started on July 8, 2014)

These operations were started by Israel. 

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