India, on May 27, abstained from voting on the United Nations Human Rights Council's (UNHRC) resolution to open an international investigation into violations with regard to the recent Gaza violence, and into the "systematic" abuses in the Palestinian territories and Israel. The resolution was nevertheless passed, with 24 of the council's 47 members voting in favour of the probe.
A ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, the Islamist movement which controls the Gaza Strip, came into force on May 21, bringing to an end 11 days of fighting in which more than 250 people were killed, most of them in Gaza.
Here is how India’s stand in the UN has changed over the years with regard to Israel and Palestine.
India has, according to a report in Indian Express, dropped its stock phrase of ‘strong support to the just Palestinian cause' in its statement at the UNHRC on May 27. This, the report said, indicates India’s pro-Israel shift.
India’s permanent representative (PR) to the UN, Ambassador TS Tirumurti, had, on May 17, made a statement at the UN Security Council reiterating India’s strong support to the ‘just Palestinian cause’ and its unwavering commitment to the two-state solution. Many observers called it a ‘balancing act’ because while India recognised the ‘just Palestinian cause’, it condemned the ‘indiscriminate’ rocket firing from Gaza targeting Israeli citizens.
“While New Delhi has pursued deeper ties with both sides on different tracks, make no mistake: the relationship with Israel has got a particularly big boost. Modi and Netanyahu have clearly hit it off, and this has helped usher in major bilateral gains—including through deeper trade and security ties,” Michael Kugelman, deputy director of the Asia program and senior associate for South Asia at the Wilson Center, told Quartz in a report.
“This makes all the more striking the fact that New Delhi has taken a very balanced position on the Gaza crisis, offering support to both Israeli and Palestinian positions,” Kugelman said.
Blast from the past
India’s connection with Israel dates back to 1947 when it, as a newly-formed nation under Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, voted against the UN partition plan of Mandate Palestine in 1947, along with most Arab countries. Since then, India has adopted a diplomatic position with regard to the Israel-Palestine issue. It recognised Israel as a nation in 1950, though India’s ties with Israel were not as friendly as they are today.
In the 1970s, under the Congress government, India became the first non-Arab country to support the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) and its leader Yasser Arafat as the formal representative of Palestinians in the General Assembly. Thus, India started establishing full diplomatic ties with Israel and taking a ‘neutral’ position on the issue.
The diplomatic ties between India and Israel, however, were formally established by the Narasimha Rao government in 1992, followed by Israel opening its embassy in New Delhi and India opening its embassy in Tel Aviv.
Still, India had supported many UN resolutions favouring Palestine, until recently. In October 2003, India voted in favour of the UN General Assembly resolution against Israel’s construction of a separation wall. In 2011, India voted for Palestine to become a full member of UNESCO. In 2012, India co-sponsored the UN General Assembly resolution that enabled Palestine to become a “non-member” observer state without voting rights.
In July 2014, about two months after the Narendra Modi-led BJP government came to power, India voted in support of a UNHRC resolution to launch a probe into Israel's offensive on Gaza.
However, it was in July 2015, that India, for the first time, abstained from voting on a resolution on Palestine adopted at the UN rights body, according to a news report by PTI. The resolution called for accountability by parties involved in the 2015 violence in Gaza. In 2016, India again abstained on the UNHRC resolution against Israel.
In December 2017, India was among 128 countries that voted in favour of a UN General Assembly resolution rejecting the then US President Donald Trump's decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel's capital.
In January 2018, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu became the second Israeli Prime Minister since 1992 to visit India. His visit came six months after Narendra Modi visited Israel in July 2017, the first-ever by an Indian Prime Minister.
Weeks later, Modi undertook a three-nation West Asia tour to Palestine, the United Arab Emirates and Oman. The visit to Palestine’s de facto West Bank capital, Ramallah, where Modi was received by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, became the first by an Indian PM. The development was another indication of emerging Indian foreign policy to dehyphenate Israel and Palestine.
A recent phenomenon?
Some reports suggest that India’s shift in foreign policy towards Israel started emerging during the second Narendra Modi government in 2019.
In June 2019, India voted, for the first time, in support of Israel at the UN’s Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) to deny observer status to a Palestinian human rights organisation named ‘Shahed’. This is the first time that India took a step back from its decades-old position on the two-state theory under which the country sees both Israel and Palestine as separate and independent countries, seeking to bring peace in West Asia, according to a report in the Print.