NEW DELHI. Israel is grateful for the “changes and the shifts” in the Indian position at UN bodies in the past two years, says Israel’s Ambassador Daniel Carmon.
Referring to India’s decision to abstain from resolutions critical of Israel at the UN, the UN Human Rights Council and UNESCO, Mr. Carmon said that the shift in India’s position has been visible more recently.
“We have appreciated very much the changes and the shifts in position [by India] on some resolutions in New York, Geneva and Paris (UNESCO). It is a measured change, compared to the past, and we hope that this change will continue,” the Ambassador told The Hindu in an exclusive interview. However, he said that the votes so far are not a “trend” and the shift, which India denies, should not be “over-exaggerated.”
“In the last couple of years we have seen a shift in various votes (by India) which reflects the present improvement in relations. I would not over exaggerate this as a trend, each side has their declared positions and it is not a zero sum game. India says they are committed to the Palestinian cause, to the Arab cause, and they have good relations with Israel that they intend to pursue. We appreciate this stand, and at the UN, we can see it too,” Mr. Carmon added.
Mr. Carmon was speaking in the context of the current controversy over the United Nations Security Council resolution 2334 that has pitted the Obama administration against the Israeli government over the issue of settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Israel has responded sharply to the 14 countries that voted for the resolution and the US that refused to veto it.
The Ambassador’s words are significant as they come in contrast to the Ministry of External Affair’s position that there has been no shift in support to Palestine. Traditionally, India has stood unequivocally with the Palestinian cause, voting in favour of all resolutions critical of Israel. However in July 2015, India abstained on a vote against Israel at the UN Human Rights Council, marking what seemed like a big shift in policy, especially as it followed a phone call from Israeli PM Netanyahu to PM Modi ahead of the vote. India repeated the abstention in 2016, but explained that it was due to a reference to the International Criminal Court, which India doesn’t recognise.
In August 2016, India supported Israeli Ambassador Danny Dannon for the first time to become Chair of the UN Legal Committee, a vote opposed by all Arab countries.
And in October 2016, India changed its vote at the UNESCO in Paris to an abstention, on a resolution criticising Israel for encroachments at the Western Wall and near the Al-Aqsa Mosque.
“In that case I would like to appreciate India’s abstention when something so blatant was placed at the UNESCO. If you take the UNESCO resolution and now the UNSC resolution that seeks to impose a solution on us, you ignore that there are two sides to this conflict. So we are grateful to India for not voting against us,” Mr. Carmon said, adding that the votes amounted to an “internationalisation” of issues that need to be resolved bilaterally with the Palestinian authority.
When asked about the comments, a government official said that India’s votes on Israel and Palestine had been “very balanced”. “We vote for Palestine but also for Israel on some of their initiatives at the UN,” the official added pointing to about 20 plus votes in the past two year, where India has not voted “against Palestinians”.
Since it came to power in 2014, the Modi government has consistently promised better ties with Israel, which it considers an ally on counter-terrorism and defence cooperation. In 2015 and 2016, Presidents Mukherjee and Israeli 2017, the year that marks 25 years since India and Israel established full diplomatic relations; PM Modi is expected to visit Israel, which would make him the first Indian PM to do so.
While he didn’t confirm a date for the visit, the Israeli Ambassador told The Hindu it is expected in the coming year. “In the last 2 years we have seen some very 'visible visits', more than a dozen ministerial exchanges, which have seen many important agreements being signed and implemented. It was hinted that the 2017 will be a year of “high level” visits, and we do look forward to the visit (of PM Modi) to Israel,” he said.