India, Israel and Palestine

The clear gap between the Indian government’s ideologically-driven assertions of equity in the current Israel-Palestine conflict and its eventual vote in favor of a strongly worded United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC)resolution  against Israel might suggest a possible dissonance between professional diplomats and their political masters. Of course, any foreign policy move, particularly one as politically and diplomatically fraught as the UNHRC vote, has to be eventually approved by the highest level of the Indian government.  With that as the backdrop, it is strange that before the vote India’s Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj had asserted that the government would not take any position in the current conflagration in Gaza because “both are our friends”.

In saying that Swaraj was, of course, trying to walk a finely calibrated ideological line of her Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), whose sanguine avowal of Israel has been well-known. After the government tried to discourage a parliamentary debate over the unfolding tragedy in Gaza, apparently so as not to step on Israeli toes, there was expectation in some quarters that the government may illustrate that partisan thinking through a vote either in favor of Israel or, at the very least, abstain like 19 other members of the 47-member UNHRC did. The language of the resolution which said the UNHRC "strongly condemned" Israel’s "prolonged occupation" of Palestinian Territory, and condemned "in the strongest terms" the "widespread, systematic and gross violations of international human rights and fundamental freedoms arising from the Israeli military operations" in Gaza was in complete repudiation of Swaraj’s earlier position of equity. Notwithstanding that, New Delhi voted in favor of the resolution along with 28 other countries. Only the United States voted against the resolution but that was a foregone conclusion.

It seems to me that professionally astute Indian diplomats may have played a significant behind-the-scenes role in ensuring a continuity in India’s historic stand on this issue. Even though Swaraj is a seasoned player of politics and policy, she is still new to the foreign ministry. Her earlier ideological certitudes, under likely promptings from Prime Minister Narendra Modi, ought to have come in conflict with diplomatic subtleties as evident in the eventual vote. I am not privy to the inner workings of the government but it is conceivable that it was Prime Minister Modi himself who took the eventual call in allowing the vote in favor of the UNHRC resolution. The vote, although historically predictable, might have surprised Israel which probably expected the strong BJP majority government to stand behind its action in Gaza.

For now, Israel is preoccupied with the Gaza problem but as things settle down—as much as they settle down in that region—it would perhaps find a way to express its views on India’s vote. I doubt if there are specific consequences to India’s action because it has been New Delhi’s long-held position. In any event, as countries there is a geostrategic imbalance between the two. India can easily withstand the diplomatic or strategic cost of sticking its position  vis-à-vis Israel even though I am not sure what that cost could be.

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About chutiumsulfate

South Asians can infer from my name what I am. View all posts by chutiumsulfate

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