Narendra Modi’s visit to Israel from 4 to 6 July 2017, was the first ever by an Indian Prime Minister. 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, which sided with Germany during the Great War. It was defeated, the empire dissolved and its successor, the Republic of Turkey, transferred Palestine to the British Empire. In 1917, British Foreign Minister Arthur Balfour issued what came to be 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 Palestinian territory and proposed both a Jewish and an Arab state on the 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 ensued. Mahatma Gandhi once 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”.
This is the fiftieth year of the Israeli occupation of Palestine—50 years since Israel annexed certain Palestinian territories following the Six Day Arab–Israeli war of June 1967. In the war, the Israelis captured and occupied the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip. Thereafter, Israel tightened its hold over these territories, crushed Palestinian resistance and created hundreds of thousands of refugees. Its discriminating policies affecting every facet of Palestinian life have invited comparison with the South African apartheid regime.
The United Nations Security Council has condemned repeatedly Israeli depredations in the occupied territories. In 2016, a council resolution directed Israel to cease immediately and completely all settlements in the occupied territories including East Jerusalem. Amnesty International has held Israel guilty of war crimes and the murder of thousands of innocent Palestinians and for the demolition of their homes. India was the first non-Arab country to recognise the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) 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.
In 1991, during my tenure in the Ministry of External Affairs, I was asked by Prime Minister Narasimha Rao to establish 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 was confident that India would not vacillate on its commitment to the legitimate demand for an independent Palestine and that he had no objection if it established diplomatic relations with Israel. I then held a meeting with the Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres at the United Nations in New York and diplomatic relations with Israel followed. India however maintained its unstinted support to the Palestinian people in their quest for a strong and viable state and provided material as well as technical support to their government in their efforts at nation building.
At present, most countries of the world recognise the State of Palestine with the exception of the United States of America and some of its Western allies. Even in the West, support for the Palestinian cause is increasing. It is ironical that while the West, the main culprit for the Palestinian plight, is finally trying to reach out to the Palestinians, India, the old supporter, has almost vanished from the political scene although Prime Minister Modi paid a highly publicised visit to Palestine in early February 2018 and signed a number of bilateral agreements with President Mahmoud Abbas and his government. New Delhi is, however, also carrying out brisk military business with the Jewish state.
The international community has been closely observing the growing defence and strategic cooperation between India and Israel, especially since the present government assumed offi ce. In the last four years, Israel has emerged as the second biggest supplier of arms to India and it is doing more than a billion dollars of business annually. Indian officials say that they were particularly obliged to Tel Aviv for rushing in urgently needed military equipment during the brief Kargil conflict. They claim that Israel is a reliable supplier though the prices it charges
are exorbitant, even by the standards of the international arms bazaar. In the last couple of years, Israel has provided the Indian armed forces with radar and border monitoring systems. Israeli companies have made millions of dollars in upgrading the MiG-21s and other Soviet-era aircraft. They have recently bagged a contract to provide the avionics for the Indian Air Force MiG-29s.
In 2015, India for the fi rst time abstained on a United Nations Human Rights Council resolution calling for a probe by the International Criminal Court into war crimes by Israel. It continued to abstain on this resolution in 2016 and 2017 as well. Israel ought to comply with international law and United Nations resolutions and vacate the occupied Palestinian territories of the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem. All future agreements between India and Israel should explicitly exclude Jewish settlements in the occupied territories. The relationship between India and Israel should be sustained but not at the expense of the traditional loyalty to the Palestinian cause. India should not dither in its long standing and unequivocal support to the struggle of the Palestinian people for national liberation and an independent state.