It all started with a tweet by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi wishing the Jewish people a happy Chanukah in Hebrew at the fag end of a tumultuous 2014, which registered approximately 2,200 Palestinian fatalities and over 11,000 injuries due to no-holds-barred Israeli aggression.
And now a myopic Modi is all set to put action behind his words by moving away from the conventional Indian foreign policy position of unconditionally siding with the oppressed Palestinians. If Modi has his way, New Delhi will henceforth oppose all future UN resolutions on Palestinian statehood, thus exposing the Hindu nationalists’ aversion to a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine dispute. However, India’s ambivalence on issues concerning self-determination and human rights is not new. Is New Delhi’s exploitation of the Tibetan people to checkmate a powerful China and thereafter dumping the same community to court Beijing years later any different from what Modi’s administration plans to mete out to the poor Palestinians, who looked up to Mahatma Gandhi’s India for moral support throughout their struggle?
Worse still, this tectonic shift stands in complete contrast to the vision of Modi’s illustrious predecessor from saffron fold, A.B. Vajpayee — a staunch pacifist. Vajpayee had vociferously empathized with the Palestinian cause of statehood. Speaking at the UN general assembly, an eloquent Vajpayee minced no words in reaffirming the guiding principles that are fundamental to the establishment of enduring peace in Middle East. “The Palestinian people have an inalienable right to self-determination and to a nation-state of their own” thundered Vajpayee (who was recently conferred with the highest civilian honor for his invaluable contribution to domestic and international politics) as assembled dignitaries listened in rapt attention. Vajpayee was also critical of the Israeli acquisition of territories by force and unequivocally called for vacation of Palestinian-Arab land illegally occupied by Israel since 1967.
Is Modi trying to negate Vajpayee’s stand on Palestine and undo whatever little contribution that this “grand-old-man” of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party had made to preserve the traditional Indian solidarity with the Palestinian people? Has Modi forgotten that Vajpayee stood solidly behind Palestinian Authority chief Yasser Arafat when Washington declared that it would support a Palestine state alongside Israel only when Palestinians vote out leaders “compromised by terror”? Vajpayee, in fact, openly rebutted America and declared bluntly that he considered Arafat a “traditional friend.”
Does Modi have the guts or vision to dare the world to dream of an Israeli and Palestinian state coexisting peacefully with a shared capital of Jerusalem? In the words of British diplomat Alastair McPhail “a shared capital where Palestinians and Israelis can travel freely, where neighborhoods can build parks and new houses, where active Palestinian institutions can serve citizens under committed and elected Palestinian leadership.” Can Modi persuade a bigoted Benjamin Netanyahu, with whom he has developed an ideological bonding, to protect the Palestinian character of East Jerusalem? Alas, Modi represent those breed of politicians who love to promote exclusivism. Being a keen follower of Veer Savarkar — a radical right-wing Hindutva ideologue who proclaimed his support for the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine way back in 1923 — it is virtually impossible for Modi to display that rare pragmatism and statesmanship one witnessed in Vajpayee. Like Savarkar, Modi too believe that Hindus and Jews are on the same boat so far as historical oppression at the hands of Muslims is concerned and that both the religious communities deserved redress.
Unfortunately, the leadership of India’s governing party seems to be relishing the fact that their political friends in Tel Aviv are actually inflicting ethnic cleansing upon Muslim and Christian (religious bête noire of the Hindutva brigade) Palestinians alike. Surely Modi has no problem in the Israeli determination to forcefully expel Palestinian Christians — however small they may be — from their land only to turn a war of national liberation into a religious crusade. Particularly because this helps to raise the bogey of so-called Islamic terrorism (that Modi cleverly exploited for domestic political gain) more effectively in international forum across the globe which ultimately bolsters Tel Aviv’s unethical design of keeping the Palestinians nationless permanently.
Since independence, India has treated Israel with the same diplomatic disdain that it generally reserved for the regime that promoted apartheid in South Africa. But now India has a government that does not believe in empowering a sober and secular Palestinian leadership to confront an Israeli state that defies the principles of humanity every now and then. Perhaps, Modi’s government has an interest in eventually blocking the Palestinian pursuit of statehood even though Tel Aviv is facing an American retreat into isolation over Palestine and growing hostility in Europe. The point is why is India sidling up to Israel so unashamedly? Is it because of Israel’s ability to give New Delhi the access to lifted American weapon technology that Washington has refused to share all along? Or is it due to the crucial support that ground-based Israeli security experts are providing to secure the porous boundary in Kashmir surreptitiously and co-mounting clandestine false-flag missions to reshape South Asian geo-politics?
With the EU court removing Hamas from terror blacklist, these are not propitious times for a radical shift in India’s Palestine policy. As the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel gains momentum internationally and Netanyahu pushes for a Jewish nation-state bill realizing the inevitability of an independent Palestine state, India will end up losing face if Modi fails to mend his way.