India and Israel established full diplomatic relations in 1992 and since then the bilateral relationship between the two countries has blossomed at the economic, military, agricultural and political levels. Both countries see themselves as isolated democracies threatened by neighbors that train, finance and encourage terrorism, therefore both countries also view their cooperative relationship as a strategic imperative.
Relations between Jerusalem and New Delhi were not always warm. India was perhaps the first postcolonial country to have opposed the partition of Palestine and the creation of Israel in 1948. However India recognized the Israel as a state soon in 1950, and allowed Israel to maintain a consulate in Mumbai. Despite this, both the countries found themselves headed in pointedly different directions for nearly four decades – India as a leader in the Non-Aligned Movement that maintained close relations to the Arab World and the Soviet Union; Israel which linked its future to close ties with the United States and Western Europe.
India’s large Muslim population was another major obstacle to building a relationship with Israel, as India feared that close relations with the Jewish State might somehow radicalize its Muslim citizens – numbering more than 180 million – and hurt its relations with the Arab World – a major source of crude oil and gas for India.
New Delhi refused to establish diplomatic relations until 1992, when the political situation in West Asia transformed following the shift in stance of the Palestine Liberation Organization that eventually led to the Oslo Accord. The change of global political climate after the breakup of the Soviet Union, which forced New Delhi to “Look West,” helped strengthen ties with Tel Aviv. The liberalization drive in India reinforced relations in vital areas. India’s emerging ties with the U.S. helped.
Indo-Israeli relationship is based on –
- Effective buyer – seller relationship in defence sector, sans any conditions.
- Superior technologies of Israel in defence, agriculture, technology and now in cyber space.
- Religious nationalists of both the countries see themselves as victims of (Islamic) terrorism as well as state sponsored terrorism.
- Both the countries are democracies, with terrible past of their own.
- No baggage of neighbourhood animosity, or troubled history or even trade competition.
Indian Position on Palestine
India recognizes both the states of Israel and Palestine. India also publicly condemns any violence committed by each side on the other.
Indian support to Palestine is based on the –
- Humanitarian basis – millions of Palestinians live in stateless condition, rigged with violence and poverty.
- Nehruvian principles of idealism and international responsibility.
- Domestic constituency of around 180 million Muslims.
- Dependence on Arab World for oil and gas.
In the past India criticized Israel for its attacks on Palestinian territories. While full diplomatic relations were established in 1992, India’s approach to Israel changed critically since 1999 Kargil crisis. Israel supplied critical surveillance and other defence technologies without any conditions. Since then India became major buyer of Israeli defence technologies. During NDA regime, there were frequent calls to elevate India – Israel relationship to the level of strategic partnership. India’s Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government maintained close ties with Israel–certainly as an important defense partner–without considerably showing support for Israel in the Arab-Israeli policy.
New winds in NDA-2 regime –
Under the new regime people predicted that India would change position on Israel in the U.N. from an unconditional Pro-Palestine position to abstention. India indeed abstained on a UN Human Rights Council (HRC) vote on July 3, 2015 adopting the Report of the Independent Commission of Inquiry on the 2014 Gaza Conflict. The report largely condemns Israel’s actions during last year’s Operation Protective Edge, a seven-week-long military operation by Israel into the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. While India maintained that abstention was because of reference to International Criminal Court, as India had done in the past when HRC resolutions on Syria and North Korea referenced the ICC. The Indian vote was being seen as emblematic of the ongoing rapprochement between the governments of India and Israel. Though the government has later clarified number of times including President Mukherjee’s visit to Palestine and Israel in October 2015 that India’s position on Palestine continues as before.
President Pranab Mukherjee – “I reiterated India’s principled support to the Palestine cause and called for a negotiated solution resulting in a sovereign, independent, viable and united state of Palestine, with East Jerusalem as its capital, living within secure and recognised borders, side by side at peace with Israel as endorsed in the Quartet Roadmap and relevant UNSC (UN Security Council) resolutions,”
Nuanced approach to Israel and Palestine
India’s nuanced approach towards Israel and Palestine New Delhi would continue to support the Palestinian cause while pursuing improved relationship with Israel. An example – In 2014, India voted in support of a U.N. Human Rights Council Resolution to launch a probe into Israel’s offensive on Gaza at the same time it was negotiating its purchase of the Barak-I missiles.
India is looking to build closer ties with Israel, largely based on its strategic and security interests, and this outreach to Tel Aviv has spanned several governments since the countries established diplomatic relations in 1992. However, Tel Aviv is aware of India’s stand on Palestine, which remains largely attached to domestic politics, and even though New Delhi voted against them, the Israelis are wise enough to appreciate and ignore the vote. For Israelis, the imperative of trade with India remains lucrative as India along with China is its largest trade partners.
Quote – Unquote
Benjamin Netanyahu –
“Israel wants peace, I want peace. I am interested in launching negotiations immediately, without preconditions. In order for this to happen, the terror incidents will have to stop and the Palestinians will have to recognise the State of Israel.”
“I speak to my dear friend [Prime Minister Narendra] Modi quite often. When we met once, he told me ‘India wants Israel’ and that I see a paragon of fraternity between our two countries.”
PM Modi – “India is the only country where antisemitism has never been allowed to come up, where Jews have never suffered and lived as an integral part of our society”.
Israeli defence minister Ya’alon – Bilateral military ties between India and Israel were under wraps due to international and domestic political sensitivities even though Israel is among one of the top defence suppliers to India. But now defence relationship was “out of closet”.
India – Israel relations brief from Jewish Virtual Library
The myth of India’s shift toward Israel – Nicolas Blarel @ The Diplomat
India’s Position on Israel and Palestine – Ankit Panda @ The Diplomat
The Gaza crisis and Indian discourse – Kabir Taneja @ The Diplomat
China, India and Israel – Flexible Co-operation – K M Seethi @ The Diplomat