`India’s West Asia policy unlikely to see major change’

Palestinian protesters shout slogans and hold portraits of relatives incarcerated in Israeli jails during a demonstration in solidarity with Palestinian prisoners outside Jerusalem's Dome of the Rock mosque at the Al-Aqsa mosque's compound, in Jerusalem's old city,
Palestinian protesters shout slogans and hold portraits of relatives incarcerated in Israeli jails during a demonstration in solidarity with Palestinian prisoners outside Jerusalem’s Dome of the Rock mosque at the Al-Aqsa mosque’s compound, in Jerusalem’s old city,

There could be a nuanced change in India’s West Asia policy under NDA rule but there will be no substantive change, former diplomats and analysts have said, as the Modi government prepares to debate, after initial reservation, the spurt in violence in Gaza in Parliament Monday following the opposition’s insistence on raising the issue. Former External Affairs Ministry secretary A. N. Ram said there could be a nuanced change in position of Narendra Modi government on the policy concerning West Asia but there will not be a major change.

He said India was a major importer of crude oil in the region and there were sizeable presence of Indian workers. “There is a historical angle and self-interest angle. National interests are permanent. They way you defend them varies. National interest have demanded that we maintain good relations with both (Israel and Palestine),” Ram told IANS.
He said it was not “a very good idea” to discuss issues publicly where country’s vital interests were involved and noted that serious negotiations were underway for release of 39 Indians in captivity of suspected militants in Iraq. . “In any case, there will not be too much shift in position (on West Asia),” Ram emphasised.
The National Democratic Alliance government has agreed to a debate on the explosive situation in besieged Gaza in Rajya Sabha after a direction from Chairman Hamid Ansari, who is also the country’s vice president and a former diplomat himself who has served in the Middle East as ambassador to Saudi Arabia and Iran.
The government appeared to have tied itself up in knots on the issue as the debate was listed in the Rajya Sabha’s business Wednesday. As opposition members insisted on a discussion, the government said that rules did not allow “discourteous reference” towards “friendly nations”.
External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj wrote to the chairman urging him not to allow the debate. However, Ansari said that the rules quoted by Sushma Swaraj relate to motions on matters of public importance and not to the short-duration discussion that was listed.
“I am unable to accede to the request of the honourable minister,” Ansari said.
The issue has disrupted proceedings of Rajya Sabha, the upper house, for three days and the government has now agreed to have a debate Monday.
While signs of some disconnect within the government on Israel-Palestine issue were apparent in the way it dealt with the matter in Rajya Sabha, the forthright stance adopted Prime Minister Narendra Modi as part of Portaleza Declaration adopted by the BRICS countries also appeared in contrast to Sushma Swaraj’s reservations in discussing the issue.
India along with other BRICS countries opposed “continuous construction and expansion of settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories by the Israeli Government.
“It violates international law, gravely undermines peace efforts and threatens the viability of the two-state solution,” the declaration said.
BRICS countries also called upon Israel and Palestine to resume negotiations leading to a two-state solution “with a contiguous and economically viable Palestinian state existing side by side in peace with Israel.”
Compared to Congress, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party is perceived to be more inclined for stronger ties with Israel. Union minister Nitin Gadkari had visited the country as BJP chief and the party always advocated close ties with the Jewish state.
The Congress and some other opposition parties had Wednesday listed discussion on “the unprecedented spurt in violence in Gaza and West Bank area of Palestine causing death of scores of civilians.”
Gaza is a small Palestinian region on the Mediterranean Sea that borders Egypt and Israel. It covers 360 square kilometres and is densely populated with about 1.8 million people.
According to reports, at least six Palestinians were killed Friday including a five-month-old infant, hours after Israel announced it had started a ground operation in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip. So far, 246 Palestinians have been killed and more than 1,850 others injured in the operation.
On July 8, Israel started an all-out aerial operation, dubbed “Protective Edge”, to stop rocket fire from Gaza.
People’s Democratic Party chief Mehbooba Mufti said that the issue was not only about discussion about violence in Gaza in parliament but also about action from the government.
“The government should intervene, condemn the killings and ask Israel to stop the attacks,” Mufti told IANS. She said Lok Sabha should pass a resolution expressing concern over violence and asking Israel to stop the attacks.
Mufti said India had always been supporter of Palestinian cause.
“How can we be silent,” she said and added that business ties with Israel have grown over the last 5-10 years but “that should not come in the way of calling spade a spade.”
Former foreign secretary Shashank said that that he did not see any major change in policy concerning West Asia by the new government. “Our policy is first to take care of our own people in the region, and second, that peace prevails there,” he said.
He said a possible reason for the issue being raised in parliament was that political parties also wanted to address their domestic constituencies.
G. Parthasarathy, a former high commissioner to Pakistan, said that there was certain basics in foreign policy which were not likely to alter with change of governments. He said India recognises Israel as also the Palestine government of Mahmoud Abbas.


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