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PM Modi in Israel: Sticking points in India-Israel ties

LiveMint logoLiveMint 04-07-2017 Livemint

New Delhi: The overarching theme of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Israel has been on enhancing collaboration on common grounds across a spectrum of areas such as defence ties, space, agriculture, water harvesting and sanitation, bilateral trade, terrorism, space et al.

But India and Israel have not reached this level of cooperation without hiccups. Significant divergences, which haven’t changed much and remain consistent with positions adopted by our founding fathers, remain in bilateral ties. Many of these have been overcome since formal ties were established in 1992, but the ideological divide resurfaces time and again.

Here are the major points of differences between India and Israel:

■ Mahatma Gandhi’s views on Zionism: India’s father of nation was opposed to the core objective of Zionism – the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Palestine on religious grounds although he sympathized with the sufferings of millions of Jews perpetrated during the Holocaust.

In November of 1938, responding to Jewish requests that he champion the Zionist cause, the Mahatma set out in writing his reflections.

“My sympathies are all with the Jews… The parallel between their treatment by Christians and the treatment of untouchables by Hindus is very close… But my sympathy does not blind me to the requirements of justice. The cry for the national home for the Jews does not make much appeal to me. The sanction for it is sought in the Bible and the tenacity with which the Jews have hankered after return to Palestine. Why should they not, like other peoples of the 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…. Surely it would be a crime against humanity to reduce the proud Arabs so that Palestine can be restored 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,” according to jewishcurrents.org.

Not just Mahatma Gandhi, even India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru was not convinced about the need to create a separate Jewish homeland for Israel. Nehru’s position was also shaped by the fact that the Congress party had opposed the partition of the country and the creation of Pakistan as a homeland for Muslims of the subcontinent.

■ Pro-Arab Stance: India extended de-jure recognition to Israel in 1950 and allowed Tel Aviv to maintain a consulate in Mumbai (Bombay) to facilitate the voluntary immigration of thousands of Indian Jews to Israel.

India maintained a public distance from Israel until 1980s due to its anti-Western, anti-Colonial, pro-Arab stand and did not support the partition plan of mandated Palestine at UN and voted against this plan on 29 November 1949. While doing so, he even refused Albert Einstein’s appeal to vote in favour of the partition of Palestine.

Later, India also voted against Israel’s admission in United Nations in 1949. Compare this to India’s stance towards China where it supported the communist regime of Mao Zedong. Nehru briefly considered inviting Israel to the 1955 Bandung Conference, but eventually decided against doing so in order to appease Arab and Middle Eastern states.

India supported President Gamal Abdul Nasser during the 1956 war wherein Israel, France and the UK invaded Egyptian territory. Nehru considered Nasser as key to gaining the support of Arab nations and maintaining Afro-Asian solidarity against Western imperialism.

■ Palestine stance: India’s policy towards Palestine remains consistent and New Delhi recently hosted Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas for a four-day official visit in May.

India has supported a negotiated solution that would result in a sovereign, independent, viable and united Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital, living within secure and recognized borders, side by side and at peace with Israel.

India supports the Saudi peace plan under which Israel would withdraw to pre-1967 borders and that the state of Palestine would be established, but that this would have to be accompanied by recognition of Israel.

■ On Gaza, Syria, Lebanon: It came during the UPA’s tenure with Indian president Pratibha Patil calling upon Israel to withdraw from Golan Heights as a primary condition for peace. The remarks came during her visit to Syria in 2010.

India views the situation through the prism of its own experience vis-à-vis China which still occupies large swathes of Indian territory as a result of the 1962 Sino-Indian War. If India is to ever retrieve that land, New Delhi believes it can’t turn a blind eye to other states in similar situations—especially ones in the Middle East, according to Jim Colbert in an article in The Diplomat.

During the UPA regime, India strongly criticised Israeli policies towards Palestinian territories. It has not only condemned incursion into Gaza by Israeli ground and other forces but also unequivocally condemned the Israeli bombing of Lebanon.

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