India’s Stand On Jerusalem

Source: The Hitavada      Date: 02 Jan 2018 15:48:48

By FAZAL MEHMOOD,

India ignored President Donald Trump’s intimidating noises and voted in favour of a resolution in the UN General Assembly which rejected and condemned US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. India’s vote at the UNGA has earned kudos. It has been widely welcomed at home and in over a 100 capitals. For Modi sarkar, it is a proud and truly Nehruvian moment — unlike any other — on the world stage. This success could strengthen India’s case for reforms in the UN and a place in its Security Council.

INDIA has not let its growing ties with Israel affect its principled position on Palestine. And, no power, not even the US, can browbeat India to compromise its 70-year-old stand on Palestine. This was New Delhi’s message on December 21, when India ignored President Donald Trump’s intimidating noises and voted in favour of a resolution in the UN General Assembly which rejected and condemned US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Under normal circumstances, India sticking to its position on Palestine in the UN does not call for a big applause.


However, times have changed. In recent years, India’s cosying up to the US has been followed by a new intimacy in its relations with Israel. Under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, India is perceived to have entered a bhai-bhai phase with Israel, especially after his visit to that country earlier this year. Modi’s visit to Israel -- the first by an Indian Prime Minister -- was remarkable for the fact that he did not travel to Palestine. The visit was excessively celebrated. The exuberance -- along with the exclusion of Palestine from the itinerary -- was attributed to the “personal chemistry” between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Modi. This has caused unease among influential sections in India and abroad. An impression was gaining that Hindutva impulses were pushing India closer to Israel; and, further away from its long-held principled position on Palestine.


In these times when pragmatism takes precedence over principles and the transactional prevails over more enduring values, there were instances to support the perception of India diluting its position on Palestine. India’s influential security and strategic affairs community has a strong predisposition towards the US and Israel, which tends to get reinforced at the political level by majoritarian tendencies.


Since 1967, India has always voted in favour of Palestine at the UN and supported Security Council resolutions on Jerusalem. However, India’s abstention from a vote against Israel at the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva in 2015 was read as marking a change in Modi sarkar’s policy towards Palestine.

This year, too, although India voted against Israel on four resolutions, the one resolution on which it abstained attracted attention and was cited to suggest a shift away from Palestine. When Trump announced, on December 6, the US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, there was shock and surprise across world capitals. The decision was condemned in the strongest terms by many countries, and the European Union was no less forthright in this than the Islamic countries.


In contrast, India’s reaction was conspicuously mild. New Delhi stated that “India’s position on Palestine is independent and consistent. It is shaped by our views and interests, and not determined by any third country.” This created ripples at home and there was consternation in the Arab world. Ambassadors of Arab countries in New Delhi lost no time in expressing concern over the “lack of condemnation”, which they communicated to Minister of State for External Affairs, M.J. Akbar.


MEA officials later revealed that what had caused a stir was India not reiterating, as in the past, its position of East Jerusalem as Palestine’s capital. Akbar assured the Arab envoys that India’s position on Palestine remained unchanged. At the meeting, the envoys recalled the 2016 Manama Declaration -- India had signed along with Arab countries -- which recognised East Jerusalem as the Palestinian capital and called for adherence to UN Security Council resolutions. Even after the meeting, the Arab countries worried over New Delhi’s stand in the UNGA, for two reasons. One, New Delhi had not obliged them with a “stronger statement” but merely reiterated its long-standing position; and, two, Netanyahu’s upcoming visit to India next month.

To make matters worse, Trump had, in crude language, warned countries against voting for the resolution which rejected the US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. He warned these countries of dire consequences including cutting off aid. Earlier, a resolution calling for Trump’s decision to be withdrawn was vetoed by the US in the 15-member Security Council.


Regardless of being isolated, the US continued with its intimidation of other countries. US ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley warned: “The President will be watching this vote carefully…We will take note of each and every vote on this issue.”
But, US threats of revenge do not seem to have swayed more than a few, because the 193-member UNGA voted 128-9 (with 35 abstentions) to declare Trump’s decision “null and void”.


Of course, the vote is not binding. Trump will, doubtless, stay the course he seems set on following in West Asia, which can only further vitiate conditions for resolving the Israel-Palestine conflict. It seems unthinkable, at this stage, that Washington would adopt a vengeful line towards India. Israel, too, cannot afford to show its displeasure beyond a point and risk losing the military and security equipment it sells to India. India’s vote at the UNGA has earned kudos. It has been widely welcomed at home and in over a 100 capitals. For Modi sarkar, it is a proud and truly Nehruvian moment — unlike any other — on the world stage. This success could strengthen India’s case for reforms in the UN and a place in its Security Council.