Recently, India was invited by the United Nations to meditate in the Israel-Palestine conflict. Consequently, India called for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestine conflict and asked both the sides to resolve all issues through direct negotiations. But, why India was asked to meditate in this millennium old conflict? To understand India’s significance in this age-old issue, we first need to turn over the pages of the history and find out the genesis and course of this conflict.
This Article sheds light on the emergence of millennium old Israel – Palestine conflict chronologically and also enunciates the contemporary context of both the States with respect to India. It emphasises on the history of the Israel-Palestine dispute holistically in the first half, briefs the status of bilateral relationship with the two States in the middle and then, finally interprets why India must participate in the conflict resolution process.
The Historical Background: Emergence of the Conflict
The Israel-Palestine conflict is a territorial conflict that dates back to more than 2000 years ago. The West Asian region, where Israel stands today, was previously home to the Israelites – a tribe. The people of this tribe were Jews. It is an ancient civilization and the region was home to these people for more than 4000-4500 years. It is a hard fact that it was the people of this tribe who first learned to control horses. Later, Jesus Christ was also born from this tribe which marked the birth of a new religion – Christianity. Centuries after the birth of Christ – the Redeemer, another great religious leader, Prophet Muhammad- the founder of Islam, was born on 572 AD in the Arabian Peninsula region. Before passing away on 632 AD, he had started the spread of Islamic religion in and around the region. By 700 AD, Islam started spreading in wide scale and slowly with the passage of time, the land of the Jews were taken away by the Islamists. However, the Jews were not completely thrown away by the Islamists; instead they became refugee in their own land. In 1030 AD, the spread of Islam religion reached the corners of Europe. This frightened the European Popes and Baptists as it threatened the existence of Christianity in those regions. And in order to protect themselves, they adopted a doctrine – ‘attack is the best form of defence’ and subsequently started attacking the Islamists on their land giving the excuse of Jerusalem – the place where Jesus Christ was crucified. It is this same site from where Prophet Muhammad had ascended to the heavens in the seventh century. Jerusalem is thus considered to be one of the holiest places in the world and a site of major significance for the three largest monotheist religions – Judaism, Christianity and Islam. After the Prophet passed away, the Golden Dome mosque or Qubbat al-Ṣakhrah was built in this place by Umayyad caliph ‘ABD al-Malik ibn Marwan in the late 7th century. It is the third most important religious place of the Islam religion after Mecca and Medina.
Owing to the threat of existence, the European initiated attacks on the Islamist to capture Jerusalem. However, in the beginning, the road to Jerusalem was not known to the Europeans. Islamists anticipated that it were the Jews who invited the Europeans to Jerusalem as their lands were forcefully taken away. Though the land was taken away from the Jewish, they were still allowed to live there, but after this incident, the Jews were ruthlessly driven out from the region. Majority of the population shifted to Europe, while a few came to settle in India. However, the Jews were not given the due respect even in Europe. Europeans feared that as these Jews had lost their own land, they might now try to take away their land and hence they were discriminated and treated as refugee only. Jews deciphered this fact that no matter how much they earn, they will not receive the due respect from the Europeans as they do not have their motherland. Though Jews were refugee in Europe then, they still had a lot of wealth with themselves.
By 1900s the Jews started raising funds from themselves and handed over the accumulated wealth to Britain. Britain at that time was an extraordinary power and was fighting against Ottoman Turkish Empire. Jews supported Britain with this wealth to defeat the Ottoman Empire and in return asked to get them their homeland back. Palestine was the ancient homeland of Jews while Jerusalem was of their religious importance. During the First World War, Jews migration had reached the zenith mostly due to the Balfour Declaration given by Sir Arthur Balfour that declared that British will give back Jews national homeland – Palestine, after the war ends. Meanwhile, British formed a secret agreement – ‘Sykes-Picot’. As per the agreement Britain would control present day southern Israel, Jordan and Palestine and southern Iraq apart from some other small areas. At the end of the war, Britain kept Palestine with them and Jews were again deprived of their motherland.
Jews understood that Britain had deceived them and envisaged that by staying back in Europe they will only be discriminated and looked upon as refugees. Hence, they themselves started moving back towards their homeland in groups and began forming their settlements. But Arabs were not ready to leave the land and hence a tussle began between the Arabs of Palestine and the Jews.
The British authority did not interfere in this conflict initially. Towards the beginning of this conflict, the Jews were repeatedly attacked by the Arabs whenever they tried to form settlements. Later, David Ben-Gurion, a de facto leader of the Jewish community in Palestine formed a Jewish militia and led the struggle against the Arabs for an independent Jewish state.
The struggle for an independent Jewish state continued even during the Second World War. After the end of the Second World War, when Britain lost its power and superiority, it decided to leave Palestine with the existing stipulations. By then, the Jews were successful in proving their mandate. In such circumstances, in 1948, the first Jewish nation and the State of Israel got established. David Ben-Gurion became the national founder and the first Prime Minister of Israel.
During this time, V.K. Krishna Menon was the Indian representative at the United Nations General Assembly. Krishna Menon was known for his brilliance, eloquence and forceful, highly abrasive personality. He inspired widespread adulation & fervent detraction in both India and the West. He had pushed for Israel’s entry into the UN assembly member list. However, Jawaharlal Nehru asked him to stop supporting the Jews because it was only a few months that India had got her independence. Supporting the entry of Israel would bring a negative thought among the Indian Muslims as Jews were predominantly against the Arabs who were followers of Islam. Indian Hindu majority had yet not gained the trust of the Muslim minority groups, and at that scenario standing up for the cause of Jewish would bring negative sentiments among the Indian Muslims. Consequently, though unofficially India had recognised the existence of Israel but officially India voted against Israel in the UN assembly.
Here, Indian government had to consider a few aspects, first the reality of the prevailing circumstances, secondly, the sentiments of the Indian citizens and thirdly, its quest towards secularism. Considering these issues, India officially did not support the Israel cause in the beginning but unofficially, both the nations supported each other in several occasions. The expanding ties between India and Israel are evident both in the military and economic spheres. The bilateral relation between the two nations started upgrading through the ‘Look West Policy’ of 1992. Defence and agriculture had been the main pillars of the bilateral engagement. Presently, India is the largest arms importer from Israel. In 2017, India had signed a close to $2 billion missile deal with Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) which will provide medium-range surface-to-air missiles to the Indian Army. Non-defence trade between the two nations reached to $4.167 billion in 2016 from $200 million in 1992. Even recently, in the light of the COVID-19 pandemic, India sent ‘Hydroxychloroquine’ to Israel to fight the Coronavirus.
On the other hand, India has always officially supported the Palestine cause. India was the first non-Arab State to recognise Palestine liberation Organization (PLO) in 1974 as the sole and legitimate representative of the Palestine people. Later in 1988, India became one of the first nations in recognising Palestine as a state. In 2003, India had voted in favour of a resolution in United Nation General Assembly (UNGA) against construction of the separation wall by Israel. And in 2011, India again voted in favour of Palestine becoming a full member of the UNESCO. Later, India also supported the Bandung Declaration on Palestine at the Asian African Commemorative Conference in 2015 besides supporting installation of the Palestine flag at UN’s premises in September 2015.
A Major Opportunity for India
From a sudden observation one might presume that India is inclined towards Palestine as in the past India had voted for Palestine and against Israel on several occasions, but in reality, India maintains a good balanced relation with both the States. It is in this backdrop that the UN asked India to meditate this territorial conflict as India maintains a de- hyphenation policy with Israel. On one side, India imports defence equipment from Israelis while on the other side it has successfully established the strategic Chabahar Port in Iran for export related purposes. Simultaneously, Saudi Arabia is the second-largest oil supplier of India, next only to Iran, thus maintaining the relations with the Arabs as well. Such are India’s foreign policies that put it in a unique position to mediate the millennium old conflict and have sparked the UN invitation for mediation.
Today, diplomacy has become increasingly complex & interrelated and hence India must welcome such invitations and contribute towards negotiating crucial global peace deals. This will support as well as foster New Delhi’s standing is global politics in one side and ensure India has a say in global matters on the other side. Additionally, it will also pave the way towards fulfilling its long desire of being recognised as a permanent member of the United Nations & its membership to the NSG. Moreover, a peace treaty will also contribute in proving New Delhi’s regional diplomatic superiority in times of tough rivalries against our neighbours, Pakistan and China. Therefore, a successful resolution of the matter will be beneficial on India’s interests and thus New Delhi must accept the invitation and actively participate in conflict resolution process. However, at the same time New Delhi also needs to remain cautious because any biasness or negligence from its part will foment unrest in the Arab world and may give rise to anti-national movements against India itself.