On India’s Shifting Allegiances and Palestine

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Earlier this month India abstained from voting on a UN Human Rights Council resolution condemning Israel for Operation Protective Edge, last year’s attack on Palestine that lasted two months, killing roughly 2,000 civilians. This was a move that surprised many political members who concern themselves with this particular conflict. Even Israeli affiliates, such as the Israeli Ambassador to India, saw this as a noteworthy moment, while the Palestinian Ambassador was shocked and affronted by India’s decision to abstain. Voting neutral in terms of Israel-Palestine denotes a partiality to Israel, a move away from India’s previously tepid ties with Palestine.

India itself provided a weak response to this, something ambiguous about the proceedings of the International Criminal Court, in its justification for why it voted to abstain — but the budding relationship between Israel and India was initiated in 1992, so this should really come as no surprise. Only now, under Modi, has there been a significant stride in that direction, leaving Palestine and its interests in diplomatic dust. He even announced, recently, that he was planning on visiting Israel to meet Netanyahu, solidifying the relationship between both nation states.

According to Al Jazeera, this change in India’s interests is provided by an anti-Muslim sentiment in India, which somehow evolved into being anti-Palestine, while other news sources claim that the prevalent caste system provides similar forms of hierarchy shared by Zionism, so this emulation lends a kinship that traverses into the Indian diaspora, too. There’s also a claim, in an article from India’s New Delhi Television (NDTV) that India’s recent change in diplomatic choices is driven by the fact that it’s prior pro-Arab stance was never rewarded by the Arab world, who “have firmly stood by Pakistan.” These ideas about the India-Israel alliance, however, are weak speculations about the extent to which India stands to gain from aligning itself with Israel.

This strategic move on India’s part matches that of the United States: Israel is one of the biggest allies of the U.S. in the Middle East, and, because of its wealth, is a logical friend for India to maintain for global significance. And Modi is intent on maintaining an India-U.S. alliance for the future. It is an alliance that is already extremely strong. According to Fortune magazine, the fast rate at which India’s economy is developing, coupled with its commitment to democratic values, makes it an attractive ally for the United States, among others. Obama recently stated that he wants to develop the global partnership between the two countries. And so, the attachment of the United States to Israel’s military needs, as well as a Jewish state, renders India’s alliance with Israel a natural result. And this alliance has manifested itself greatly. According to the NDTV source, “India is the world’s largest buyer of Israeli weaponry and was Israel’s third largest trading partner in Asia in 2013, just after China and Hong Kong.”

So the diplomatic development of this relationship is purely that — a political move on the part of India to have friends in high places, so to speak. Palestinian alliance, on the contrary, does not stand to receive political gain. India’s desire to align itself with Israel and the United States to develop their diplomatic relations when its economy is expanding so rapidly is complicated by Israel’s blatant violation of Palestinian human rights. So the solution here is to maintain the farce of political neutrality in the case of Israel-Palestine by abstaining from voting on a resolution that recognizes Israel’s violations. While this move, in theory, absolves India of any responsibility of bias in this matter, the implication of abstaining from voting extends beyond a lack of responsibility.

This decision to be diplomatically “neutral,” in a sense, extends beyond India’s borders. The kind of response given to Palestine and Israel by members of the Indian diaspora mirrors this desire to see things from an “unbiased” or “objective” perspective. Aligning oneself with Palestine tends to be delineated as a biased perspective, while abstention, which becomes the inevitable support of Israel, is seen as objectivity.

In the diaspora, there generally isn’t an outright discussion surrounding Palestinian human rights, necessarily, but rather the political grandeur of Israel. The comparison of Palestine and Israel generally describes both as two bodies of equal power. This tends to echo the neutrality of India’s diplomatic choices — mirroring, to a certain extent, an unnerving acceptance of colonization that had infiltrated Indian history for centuries. So the insistence on defending Israel, even if it embodies the colonizers, is reminiscent of the willingness of Indian civilians to work for their own colonizers.

This isn’t to say this is an Indian problem, but rather a rational decision to accept the power imbalance as it is in order to come out on the winning side. Aside from normalizing Israel’s occupation of Palestine and human rights violations, turning a blind eye to Israel’s transgressions will only strain India’s relationship with almost every other ally it has, including the EU, which is generally more open about criticizing Israel’s actions.

Interestingly, the diplomatic relationship between the United States and India is personified within the diaspora member, who is both American and Indian. The alliance of the two countries, therefore, is the best possible outcome for individuals of the Indian diaspora. Israel’s violation of human rights is dismissed in order to maintain this alliance. So when Palestinian solidarity work is brought about in Indian spaces in the diaspora, instead of meeting unfettered support, one is usually left arguing that the violence and the unfairness of the occupation are antithetical to India’s own history. Regardless, the current desire to hold political power overrides the recognition of one’s own history — both in India as well as the diaspora.

Perhaps it’s unfair to generalize. It may be even a little self-righteous. India’s diplomatic needs are maybe too complicated and too great to be weighed down by the reality of Israel-Palestine, the occupation, as well as the numerous human rights being violated in that region by the former state, but it is dismissive of India’s own history, as victims of colonization, to be so cavalier about the state of Palestinians. Not only that, but India’s priorities to maintain diplomatic relations with the United States, and Israel de facto, must account for what rights are being compromised on the route to global power.

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