At the United Nations Security Council on Sunday, India, a non-permanent member, reaffirmed its support for Palestine, but stopped short of making any direct reference to the status of Jerusalem or the future Israel-Palestine borders . Wrapping up his over-4-minute-long speech at the Security Council , T.S. Tirumurti, India’s Permanent Representative to the UN said: “In conclusion, India reiterates its strong support for the just Palestinian cause and its unwavering commitment to the two-state solution.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday tweeted the national flags of 25 countries, from the United States to Albania, that he said were “resolutely standing with Israel and supporting our right to self defence”. Indian flag was not among them. Ambassador Tirumurti’s statement made two things clear. One, he said the “violence began in East Jerusalem a week back”, referring to the clashes in the Al-Aqsa compound and East Jerusalem’s neighbourhood. This means, India doesn’t see Hamas’s rocket firing on May 10, which followed Israeli forces storming Al-Aqsa Mosque in the morning, as the trigger of the conflict.
Second, India has expressed “our deep concern over the violence in Jerusalem, especially on Haram esh-Sharif/Temple Mount during the holy month of Ramzan and about the possible eviction process in Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan neighbourhood in East Jerusalem.” Dozens of Arab families in the occupied East Jerusalem face eviction by the Israelis, which was one of the triggers of Arab protests in the last week of Ramzan.
India has also urged both sides to “refrain from attempts to unilaterally change the existing status quo, including in East Jerusalem and its neighbourhood.” Here, it is Israel which is trying to unilaterally change the status quo by moving to evict the Palestinian families, and deploying troops to the Al-Aqsa compound. India called for “the historic status quo at the holy places of Jerusalem, including Haram esh-Sharif/Temple Mount must be respected”. So, without mentioning any country, India has, in effect, called for the eviction process to be stopped and status quo ante to be restored at the Al Aqsa compound.
While refusing to toe the Israeli line on the conflict, India’s comments also point to its evolving position on the larger Israel-Palestine issue. “It’s a very carefully drafted statement. For example, it’s called for the status quo relating to East Jerusalem. But you know the crucial point that’s missing is that East Jerusalem should be the capital [of a future Palestinian state]. Earlier, this used to be the mantra from India regarding the two-state solution. This portion is now taken out. Therefore, we are simply giving lip service to the two-state solution without mentioning that East Jerusalem is the core part of that two-state solution,” said Talmiz Ahmad, a former diplomat, who was India’s Ambassador to Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E.
Until 2017, India’s position was that it supported “the Palestinian cause and called for a negotiated solution resulting in a sovereign, independent, viable and united State of Palestine, with East Jerusalem as its capital, living within secure and recognised borders, side by side at peace with Israel”. Then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh stated this position in November 2013. So did then President Pranab Mukherjee, in October 2015.
India dropped the references to East Jerusalem and the borders in 2017 when Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas visited Delhi. Prime Minister Narendra Modi said back then, “[W]e hope to see the realisation of a sovereign, independent, united and viable Palestine, coexisting peacefully with Israel. I have reaffirmed our position on this to President Abbas during our conversation today.” In 2018, when Mr. Modi visited Ramallah, he reaffirmed the same position, with no direct reference to the borders or Jerusalem. Ambassador Tirumurti stated this line while calling for a “just” solution, without giving specifics on what that solution should be.
P.R. Kumaraswamy, professor of international studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi, said it is “the sensible way of saying what is acceptable to both parties”. “It [the statement] is vague enough while at the same time firmly putting the two-state solution on the table. That’s what the point is — whether there is a reference to Jerusalem, whether it is [the] 1967 [border], these are all minor issues. The real issue is this: a two-state solution, coexisting side by side. What are the contours of the boundaries will be discussed, settled and recognised by the parties,” he said.
Prof. Kumaraswamy, however, added that there are a couple of important nuances in India’s statement. “First, the references to Haram esh-Sharif come twice. And it says, Haram esh-Sharif/Temple Mount. This is a very subtle way of saying that this is not a Palestinian narrative. The Palestinian narrative is that it is Haram esh-Sherif—that means exclusive Islamic control and ownership. By saying Temple Mount together with Sharam esh-Sherif, it says... the real issue is it is Jewish as well as Islamic. Second, you openly condemn the rockets, but no references to Israeli reaction.”
Ambassador Ahmad also noted the different approaches India took to the rocket firing and Israeli strikes. “There is a specific condemnation on the rocket fire from Gaza, but a similar condemnation is not specifically directed at the Israeli side. And then, there is this loose talk on casualties, but fails to mention the disproportionate use of force by Israel. I think there is a lot of symbolism here.”