India, Israel under shadow of past

Dost Muhammad Barrech
CHANGING geo-economic and geo-strategic phenomenon in international arena assures that states are always in evolutionary process and ponder over new avenues to obtain relative gain in competitive world. India and Israel till 1992 were at odds, but with the passage of time, established diplomatic ties to capitalise lucrative possibilities. Israel, before 1992 remained controversial in Indian foreign policy. India, since the inception of Israel, had an unfavorable stance regarding Israel’s independence in the Middle East. Israel, meanwhile, tried to begin diplomatic ties with India but the Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru by following the doctrine of Gandhi was reluctant to endorse Israel’s proposition. Gandhi once said that “Palestine belongs to the Arabs in the same sense that England belongs to the English and France to the French”.
Bringing India and Israel on one page needs a great deal of contemplation. First and foremost question to be answered is what are the factors that are bringing convergence in relations of India and Israel? Theologically speaking, Hinduism and Judaism are against the religion conversion. Judaism, based on non-proselytizing does not pose a threat to Hinduism. Both India and Israel got independence nearly at the same time, their new emergence on the world map as sovereign entities trace their history and civilization before the existence of Christianity. In this regard, Chaim Weizmann, a Zionist leader while taunting the British at Balfour Declaration said that Indian and Jews were nations and civilizations long before Paris and London become cities, he further said that both nations were proud of their distinctive cultures and civilizations. When Nazi persecution was in full swing in Europe, many European Jews took refuge to India. Above all, during the 1962 Sino-Indian war, the Indian Prime Minister Nehru got military assistance from the first Prime Minster of Israel Ben- Gurion.
The formation of India and Israel also has many resemblances; their formation accompanied by religion, caused an unprecedented communal bloodbath. Coincidently, their emergence as independent states erupted hostilities from immediate neighbors, both obtained independence almost at the same time, from the same imperial power Great Britain. In order to shun joining of the Cold War, both states followed the trajectory of non-alignment. After their independence, identical views of Nehru and Ben- Gurion had numerous coexistences regarding international issues, such as the recognition of Communist China, the Korean crisis and the Cold War.
Besides, one needs to engage into introspection and examines some differences between India and Israel since 1948. Some divergence of interests shunned both states to have cozy relations till 1992. For instance, Indian nationalist leaders launched freedom movement against the Great Britain, meanwhile, Zionist leadership, favoured the Great Britain to grant them independence. After independence of India and Israel, both differed in many ways. Indian post-independence foreign policy revolved around anti-imperialism, whereas Israel was supposed to be under the tutelage of imperialist powers. India, on that particular juncture, desired the decolonization of Asia and Africa. Nonetheless, Israel did not support Indian stance of the decolonization. As a matter of fact, both countries claim to be secular states; Israel instead of secularism is committed to consolidating Jewish State. To the contrast, India’s preoccupation with its Muslim population can be seen in making bilateral relations with Israel. During British rule, India was having world’s largest Muslim population, even today India ranks third as for as Muslim population in the world is concerned. Indian policy makers, thus, are fully cognizant of the Muslim sentiments regarding Israel issue.
In prevailing scenario, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi well-known for his hawkish approach towards Muslims also disagrees with the US decision of recognizing Jerusalem as capital of Israel. The Indian Foreign Ministry statement unequivocally stated that “India’s position on Palestine is independent and consistent. It is shaped by our views and interests, and not determined by any third country,” recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel by India is likely to exacerbate its domestic politics, on account of its Muslim population and India considers the issue of Jerusalem through an Islamic prism. India has had Muslim conundrum, and has been ruled by the Muslim rulers for many centuries. India and Indian Ocean are also engulfed by the Muslim population. Indian important routes to the world pass via Muslim countries, alienating its Muslim population and Muslim world would be counterproductive for the Indian foreign policy.
India, on the other hand, is well-known for not keeping all eggs in one basket; its little differences with Israel do not constrain its economic diplomacy. Bilateral trade between India and Israel in 1992 was merely $ 200 million that has jumped to $ 4.16 billion in 2016. Israel also has become one of the Indian biggest suppliers of weapons. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s recent visit to India, articulated that “we have had diplomatic relations for 25 years, but something different is happening now” Interestingly, both states are crucial allies of the US but India is less concerned with the US, when it comes the issue of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
— The writer is Research Assistant, Institute of Strategic Studies, a think-tank based in Islamabad.

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