Thursday, November 20, 2014

India opts out of admonishing Israel

While every other ally of Israel has distanced itself from Israel's policies after its offensive in Gaza this summer - especially on settlements - India has pledged to strengthen its relations with the country.

A visit by India's Home Minister Rajnath Singh to Israel this month became an chance for India to proclaim its steadfast support for the country. During the trip, Singh said India sought closer ties with the country adding, "Israel plays a major role in world politics". India has invited Israel to become a partner in a "Made in India" initiative in the defense sector and Israel has expressed a desire to share cutting edge weapon technologies with New Delhi.

Even before the ink on the indefinite ceasefire agreement in the Gaza conflict had dried in August, Israel announced a decision to grab nearly 1,000 acres (404 hectares) of Palestinian land to build Jewish settlements. This expansionist act was condemned by the US, the UK, the European Union and the United Nations. British Prime Minister David Cameron called it "utterly deplorable".

Israel had two objectives in the war against Hamas. One was to delegitimize Hamas as a political movement and degrade it to a sheer terrorist organization and if possible to destroy it. The other was to scuttle the process of Palestinian unity which had strengthened with the formation of a unity government.

Israel failed in both objectives. The world witnessed the increasing acceptance of Hamas as a legitimate political movement of Palestine and Palestine as a state. The Swedish government officially recognized the state of Palestine on October 30. Before that came a non-binding resolution in the British parliament, with similar votes in the pipeline in France, Spain and Ireland.

New European Union foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini last week appealed for the establishment of a Palestinian state, saying the world cannot afford another war in Gaza. "We need a Palestinian state. That is the ultimate goal and this is the position of all the European Union", Mogherini said during a trip to Gaza. "We cannot just sit and wait. If we sit and wait it will go on for another 40 years. We have to have act now"

Israel's other objective of scuttling the process of Palestinian unity also failed - Fatah-Hamas relations have strengthened since the ceasefire.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's meeting with his Israeli counterpart Benjamin Netanyahu in September, the first such meeting between the prime ministers of the countries in more than a decade, was significant for a number of reasons. During the meeting, Netanyahu said that "the sky is the limit" in terms of prospects for cooperation.

It was also made clear that Modi would seek the views of the Israeli prime minister on the Islamic State. "The two leaders discussed the situation in West Asia. Given that Israel is well-placed in that region PM [Modi] requested and was given a briefing of their understanding of the situation", the amiable spokesperson of the Ministry of External Affairs helpfully explained. The Indian Prime Minister did not need any briefing on the situation from any other West Asian leader.

The conversation came just before Modi's dinner with President Barack Obama in Washington and the prime minister's address to the Council on Foreign Relations, to outline his government's foreign policy objectives. Netanyahu's views were sought by Modi in his preparations for these two events.

In fact there was no need to seek Netanyahu's views on the Islamic State in Modi's conversation, since the Israel prime minister had clearly stated his views in the UN General Assembly, "Hamas and the Islamic state group are branches of the same poisonous trees, both bent on world domination through terror just as the Nazis were."

India's relationship with Israel was sparked by L K Advani, a senior leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), following a visit to Israel in 1995. He returned with rhetoric on civilizational bonds, but also on terrorism. Five years later, Advani returned to Israel, this time as India's Home Minister.

During the visit in June 2005, Advani said at the Indian Embassy in Tel Aviv, "In recent years we have been facing a growing international security problem. We are concerned with cross-border terrorism launched by proxies of Pakistan. We share with Israel a common perception of terrorism as a menace, even more so when coupled with religious fundamentalism. Our mutual determination to combat terrorism is the basis of discussions with Israel whose reputation in dealing with such problems is quite successful."

Rajnath Singh had a helicopter tour of the Jordan valley and Israel's northern and southern regions with National Security Adviser Yossi Cohen "to get a sense of the security situation there". The security situation there is simply the military preparedness of Israel, mainly against the Palestinians.

Of course, Rajnath Singh was following in the footsteps of his illustrious predecessor Advani who in 2000 had "visited northern border areas to study border management that Israel has displayed so successfully".

The talk about cross-border terrorism and border areas seems unlikely considering Israel has refused to define its borders and is grabbing more and more Palestinian territory borders on legitimizing occupation. During the Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres' visit to New Delhi in January 2002, the Foreign Ministry's spokesperson had said, "India finds it increasingly beneficial to learn from Israel's experience in dealing with terrorism since Israel has long suffered from cross-border terrorism".

What are the borders of Israel crossed by terrorists, the spokesperson was speaking about? As Robert Fisk asked, "Which particular Israel? The Israel of 1948? The Israel of the post-1967 borders? The Israel which builds and goes on building vast settlements for Jews and Jews only on Arab lands, gobbling up even more of the 22% Palestinian land still left to negotiate?"

India-Israel cooperation in counter-terrorism is based on equating the Palestinian struggle with cross-border terrorism. It is this flawed and skewed stance that is reflected in India's attitude to Israel's periodic wars against Palestinians.

Ninan Koshy is a political commentator based in Trivandrum, Kerala, India, and formerly Visiting Fellow, Harvard Law School, is the author of War on Terror: Reordering the World and Under the Empire: India's New Foreign Policy.

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