India’s vote on UN draft resolutions criticising Israel were ‘routine’; regular stance maintained: Government

Officials dismiss speculation over another shift in India’s position following India’s abstention favouring Israel in October at the UN General Assembly

November 13, 2023 10:28 pm | Updated November 15, 2023 07:59 am IST - NEW DELHI

In solidarity: UN Secretary­ General Antonio Guterres observing a minute of silence in memory of those killed in Gaza on November 13, 2023.

In solidarity: UN Secretary­ General Antonio Guterres observing a minute of silence in memory of those killed in Gaza on November 13, 2023. | Photo Credit: AFP

India’s position on the United Nations’ votes that dealt with draft resolutions criticising Israel last week were “routine” and reflect its position on the same resolutions that are passed regularly each year, officials said, differentiating these from the UN General Assembly ceasefire resolution in October, where India had abstained. On Thursday, the Fourth Committee of the UNGA had voted to clear six resolutions that criticise Israel and support aid for Palestinians in the Occupied Territories and refugees elsewhere. India voted in favour of five of the six resolutions, abstaining in one resolution that deal with investigating Israeli practices and operations for human rights violations. 

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Of most significance was the vote criticising ‘Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and the occupied Syrian Golan’ (A/C.4/78/L.15) that “condemns” Israeli demolitions of Palestinian villages and calls the occupation of those villages by Israeli settlers “illegal”, which India voted in favour of. The vote by India, which was not accompanied by any explanation, came despite statements by the envoys of Israel and the U.S., who called on members to vote against the resolutions which will be taken up at the UNGA plenary session, most likely in December.

The U.S. envoy called the resolutions “one-sided”. 

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“This year, we call on you to vote against the resolutions… because of what is not mentioned in the resolutions despite the Hamas terror attack against Israel on October 7. There is no mention of war crimes by Hamas. So vote against the resolutions,” the Israeli envoy said, speaking before the votes, citing over 1,400 Israelis killed in attacks by Hamas militants, and 240 Israelis still hostage, including infants, taken at different points along the border with Gaza.

In airstrikes and operations in response to the attacks by Israeli defence forces on Gaza, more than 11,000 Palestinians, including 4,000 children, have been killed, and more than 800,000 have been forced out of their homes to take shelter in south Gaza. 

India’s vote in favour of most of the resolutions on November 9 had led to speculation and commentary that the government had had another “rethink” on its UN voting policy. On October 26, India had abstained from the resolution at the Special Emergency Session, calling for an immediate ceasefire to Israeli operations, which was a shift in position seen as favouring Israel. At the time, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) had said that it had changed its vote from the past, to an “abstention”, to demonstrate its “zero tolerance” policy on terrorism, and that it could not vote in favour of resolutions that didn’t directly reference the October 7 attack.

Since the vote, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has spoken to a number of leaders from the Arab-Gulf countries, who have been calling for more support for Palestinians caught in the Israeli bombardment, including Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi; President of the UAE, Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan; and the President of Egypt, Abdel Fattah El-Sisi.

When asked about why India had voted for the five draft resolutions last week (A/C.4/78/L.10,11,12,14 and 15) that were critical of Israel, and which did not refer to the issue of Hamas terrorist attacks or the return of hostages, an official explained that the draft resolutions are “annual, regular resolutions” that were routine, adding that the October 27 ceasefire resolution was a special vote that had taken place in the backdrop of the October 7 and Gaza incidents.

However, former diplomats said that India has shifted its stand to a more “transactional” one, balancing ties with Israel and the traditional policy on Palestine.

“It is clearly a more realpolitik, national interest-oriented foreign policy as understood by the people who make policy today,” former Ambassador to U.S. and U.K. Navtej Sarna said, speaking at a panel discussion organised by the Indo-America Friendship Association on Monday. He added that, at present, Arab countries had not themselves reacted very strongly to Israel’s actions.  “If there is a major reaction from Arab countries, then India’s vote will be a more significant indicator of how we stand. So far, we have stood with Israel, without abandoning our standard formulations on the two state solution for [Israel-Palestine],” he said.

The five draft resolutions India voted for dealt with the operations of the UNRWA, the UN agency that deals with Palestinians; assistance to Palestinian refugees; the issue of Palestine refugee properties; the area of Syrian Golan occupied by Israel; and Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including east Jerusalem and the occupied Syrian Golan. India, however, abstained from the resolution titled ‘Work of the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People and Other Arabs of the Occupied Territories’.

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