The NDA government came under sharp attack in Parliament for refusing to allow a resolution condemning Israel for the strikes on Gaza even as the death toll crossed 500 on Monday. In particular focus is the BJP’s top leaderships’ close ties with Israel, given that Prime Minister Modi had travelled as Gujarat Chief Minister to Israel in 2006, promising to return if he became Prime Minister.
As Home Minister, L.K. Advani was the first senior Minister to visit Israel in 2000, and External affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj once chaired the India-Israel parliamentary friendship group and led a delegation there. As a result, the statement by the Ministry of External Affairs, that sought to criticise Israel for the airstrikes and militants in Gaza for rocket attacks “at the same time”, came under severe criticism from the opposition. “A distinction must be made between the kind of air and ground aggression, and use of brute disproportionate force (by Israel) and the other side,” said Congress leader Anand Sharma, who led the charge in the Rajya Sabha, in an interview to the Hindu, “The ruling BJP must explain its statement.”
However, according to experts, the shift in official statements came not with the Modi government, but in fact, in 2012. Former diplomat and UN official Chinmaya Garekhan, who was Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s special envoy to West Asia and the Middle East Peace Process, told The Hindu, “There is no doubt that India’s position on the Israel- Palestine conflict has moderated gradually over a period of time, from its once categorical support for the Palestinian cause.” Mr. Garekhan says the game-changer in this regard was Israel’s assistance to India during the Kargil war, when it supplied much needed artillery shells at short notice. “It was gratitude for this act and our growing defence relationship with Israel that made the difference in later years. Even at the UN, while we still support statements in favour of Palestine, we no longer co-sponsor such resolutions.”
Ministry of External Affairs statements since 2000, accessed from their website prove the case beyond doubt. While all statements from 2000 to 2009 (see graphic) clearly “condemn” Israel for its aggression during each conflict, they don’t mention attacks from Gaza. However, in 2012, under the UPA government, the MEA statement, for the first time, dropped the word ‘condemn’, and instead said, “We are deeply concerned at the steep escalation of violence between Israel and Palestine, focused around Gaza,” calling for a resumption of dialogue between both sides. Sources in the ministry also point to the changes in the Arab world for the shift in India’s position. “The protests of the Arab spring in 2011 took away some of the focus from the Palestinian struggle, and it also caused a big rift between the Arab countries and Iran-backed groups like Hamas and Hezbollah,” says one diplomat well-versed with West Asian policy. “As a result, India felt it could adjust policy, since even countries of the Arab League like Saudi Arabia and Qatar had nuanced their support for the Palestinian cause.”