By Saeed Naqvi
Sushma Swaraj’s statement on Palestine in the Rajya Sabha so pleased Jerusalem that Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman thanked her that evening over the telephone. But the goodwill thus generated was fading by Wednesday when New Delhi, having changed its mind, voted with the resolution at the UN “condemning Israel for disproportionate use of force in Gaza”.
Twenty-nine of UN Human Rights Council’s 47 members voted in favour of creating a commission of inquiry to look at possible war crimes committed by Israel. Only the US voted against while 17 states abstained, including 10 European states.
“Along with the BRICS, India reaffirmed its commitment to a two state solution with a contiguous and economically viable Palestine State,” with “East Jerusalem as its capital”.
The altered stand has caused the foreign ministry in Jerusalem and its missions at the UN to work overtime trying to persuade New Delhi not to veer away from the special relationship it now has with the Jewish state. The Israeli embassy in New Delhi must feel a little handicapped because it has in place only an ambassador designate. Efforts are on to fast-forward his presentation of credentials. The US embassy too is in the hands of a stop-gap ambassador.
There is a view that the discrepancy between the statement in parliament and endorsement of the UNHRC resolution could have been avoided had the external affairs minister accompanied Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the BRICS summit in Fortaleza, Brazil.
The extent to which BRICS conditions Modi’s understanding of foreign affairs will become clearer during his meeting with President Barack Obama in September. The Israelis have been quick to point that of all the BRICS countries they consider India their close ally. Hence their disappointment with the UNHRC vote.
In 1990, India had lost its central pillar in foreign affairs with the collapse of the Soviet Union. A nervous New Delhi did not merely shift, it lurched towards the US and Israel.
The process of opening embassies in Tel Aviv and New Delhi was speeded up by P.V. Narasimha Rao in 1991.
Even after the exchange of ambassadors, there was very little movement in bilateral ties, inviting then Foreign Minister Shimon Peres’ satirical remark during his visit to India in 1992: “Indo-Israeli relations are like French perfume: they are to be smelt, not drunk.”
Substance in the relationship came after the Kargil war in 1999 when Israel supplied India with ammunition for its artillery. There has been no looking back. In fact, the US-Israel duet became the most powerful influence on the conduct of Indian foreign policy.
The affair with the US reached its peak with the Civil Nuclear Deal of 2005. Then, by voting for a Western sponsored resolution at the IAEA in Vienna, meant to reprimand Iran, India signaled a final goodbye to its long-standing policy of non-alignment.
That step pleased Washington and Jerusalem quite as much as Sushma Swaraj’s statement in the Rajya Sabha. Israeli newspapers like Jerusalem Post also applauded her stand that “the present conflict in Gaza could have been ended and peace restored by now if Hamas had accepted the ceasefire proposal from Egypt”.
Unfortunately, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi shares Saudi Arabia’s visceral hatred for the Muslim Brotherhood which was once Egypt’s lifeline to Hamas in Gaza. Egypt discussed the proposed ceasefire with Israel but not with Hamas. Hence Hamas’ rejection of the proposal.
There are other reasons for Hamas’ defiance.
When war breaks out, the first casualty is the truth. Since the US (and Israel) has been involved in a near continuous chain of wars in the Arab world since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Western media has been purveying propaganda. The result of this diminishing credibility is that Israel may well be losing the propaganda war in this round.
In a recent Al Jazeera TV discussion, social media experts in Jerusalem, London and Johannesburg established that Israeli government propaganda on the social media received only 200,000 tweets as opposed to 4.5 million received by Hamas.
Another study, cited by the British expert on the panel, Ben White, shows that support for Israel in the US has dwindled to 57 percent.
Surely, New Delhi too must be alert to these trends. This, in addition to the fact that millions of Indians work in Arab lands must be a sobering thought. The Arabs whom Indians live with (if not the rulers) are sympathetic to the Palestinian victims of an asymmetrical war.