Why India isn’t turning its back on Palestine just yet
New Delhi’s relations with Tel Aviv may be growing but so is its engagement with the oil-rich Arab world.
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The strong pro-Israel lobby here is delighted with the Narendra Modi government for not voting against Israel in the Human Rights Council in Geneva. Many analysts have concluded that this is a shift away from New Delhi’s traditional pro-Palestine stand, and is the beginning of a more BJP-oriented foreign policy. It is too early to make such a prediction.
Unlike the US, India did not oppose the resolution, but abstained. Kenya, Ethiopia, Paraguay and Macedonia also abstained. Most countries, including US ally Britain, Germany and France supported it. The UNHRC (United Nations Human Rights Council) adopted a resolution condemning Israel over a UN report on war crimes committed during the 2014 Gaza conflict.
Ironically, in July last year, India had voted against Israel and in favour of the UNHRC resolution for an inquiry report into the Gaza violence. Over 2,300 had been killed in Israeli airstrikes on Gaza.
It is perhaps true that given a choice, the current government would go all out in support of Israel. The BJP even in opposition had nurtured ties with Israel. But international diplomacy is much more than pandering to anti-Muslim sentiments favoured by elements within the larger Sangh Parivar. Strategic considerations weigh in and not sentiment.
India’s relations with Israel may be growing but so is its engagement with the oil-rich Arab world. India has strong ties with the Gulf Cooperation countries, with over five million of its citizens working in the region. These Indian workers send back remittance worth over 38 billion dollars at last count. The remittances help to fuel the economy of several states notably Kerala and Andhra Pradesh.
But remittances and blue-collar workers are not the only factors. India buys most of its oil from the region and its energy needs are growing by the day. With the easing of sanctions, Delhi is also importing huge quantities of oil from Iran. China and India at the moment are Iran’s top customers. Apart from oil, Indian companies are also investing in the Gulf region. GCC exports to India have grown at an annual rate of 43 per cent over the last decade, the highest rate with any major trade partner, making up 11 per cent of the total GCC exports. Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and UAE make up the Gulf Cooperation Countries, which are developing at a rapid pace.
Indian membership of the Dubai Chamber of Commerce has risen dramatically by 41 per cent, showing how many companies are heading to the Gulf. This number is expected to double by 2021, given the present growth rate. India is currently Dubai's number one trading partner with a trade volume of USD 37 billion in 2013.
Delhi is also looking for investments from rich Gulf states. All these factors come into play, and New Delhi, will not jeopardise ties with the Arab countries. When former foreign minister Jaswant Singh, visited Tel Aviv in 2000 during the first NDA rule, he went to Palestine as well.
While the BJP-led Modi government has excellent ties with Israel, so did the Congress, though the party had since independence supported the Palestinian cause. In fact it was former Congress prime minister Narasimha Rao, who upgraded ties with Israel.
In 2009, when India and US were working at signing the civil nuclear agreement, New Delhi broke with tradition and voted with the US at the International Atomic Energy Agency. The vote was to take Iran a friend of India to the UNSC for its alleged nuclear program. All countries work for their national interest, and India is no exception. India’s vote on Friday has to be considered in this context.
Foreign ministry spokesman Vikas Swarup, insists there is no such shift in stand. His explanation was on the issue of "there is no change in New Delhi's long-standing position on support to the Palestinian cause".
He explained that the reference to the International Criminal Court (ICC), had persuaded New Delhi to abstain. India is not a signatory to the Rome Statute establishing the ICC, which has the mandate to try war crimes.
“In the past also, whenever a Human Rights Council resolution made a direct reference to the ICC, as happened in the Resolutions on Syria and North Korea, our general approach had been to abstain. We have followed the same principle in our voting on today's Resolution," he explained.