View From India | What is India’s Palestine position?

Understand foreign affairs from the Indian perspective! This week, the newsletter is written and curated by Stanly Johny, The Hindu’s International Affairs Editor.

Updated - October 24, 2023 04:10 pm IST

Published - October 23, 2023 05:18 pm IST

(This article forms a part of the View From India newsletter curated by The Hindu’s foreign affairs experts. To get the newsletter in your inbox every Monday, subscribe here.)

With Israel’s relentless bombing of Gaza, a tiny Mediterranean land strip of 2.3 million people, continuing in the third week, voices of concern started rising from different parts of the world about the humanitarian tragedy that’s unfolding in the enclave. Israel launched bombing after Hamas, the Islamist militant group that controls Gaza, launched a massive raid in southern Israel, killing at least 1,400 people, the largest cross-border attack Israel has seen since the state was created in 1948 within the borders of historical Palestine. Israel’s air strikes and shelling have already killed some 4,500 Palestinians, roughly half of them children, and injured many more thousands. At the UN Security Council, Brazil put together a mildly worded resolution calling for a humanitarian pause to the bombing. But it was vetoed by the U.S. China’s President Xi Jinping has promised to work with Egypt to “stabilise” West Asia. Russia has called for a solution to the Palestinian problem for peace in the region.

Immediately after Hamas’s October 7 Sabbath attack, Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke to his Israeli counterpart Benjamin Netanyahu and said India “unequivocally” condemns terrorism. “People of India stand firmly with Israel in this difficult hour. India strongly and unequivocally condemns terrorism in all its forms and manifestations,” he posted on X, referring to the Hamas attack. A few days later, the Ministry of External Affairs reiterated India’s support for Palestine.

“India always advocated the resumption of direct negotiations towards establishing a sovereign, independent and viable state of Palestine, living within secure and recognised borders, side by side at peace with Israel,” Ministry spokesperson Arindam Bagchi told reporters in Delhi, emphasising that India’s position on Palestine has been “longstanding and consistent” and that there has been no change in that policy.

On October 19, Prime Minister Modi talked to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and said India would send humanitarian assistance to the Palestinians. He reiterated India’s long-standing principled position on the Israel-Palestine issue.” While India upholds its “long-standing position” on Palestine (that it supports a two-state solution, the specifics of that position have evolved over the years. After India established full diplomatic relationship with Israel in 1992, ties between the two improved remarkably, especially in the tech and defence sectors. But at the same time, India maintained a strong line on the Palestine problem.

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.

Asked about this subtle change in India’s position, a senior diplomat with the MEA told The Hindu in 2018 during PM Modi’s Palestine visit that the issues of border and capital are among the most contentious of the Israel-Palestine conflict. “So it’s up to the parties to reach a consensus on these issues. As regards we are concerned, we support the two-state solution, which means we support statehood for the Palestinians.” It is this position India has reiterated during the latest Gaza crisis.

Despite India’s strong ties with Israel, India finds it important to retain its support for the Palestinian cause for a variety of reasons. One, there is widespread support in the UN General Assembly, and particularly in the Global South, for Palestinian statehood, and India has historically voted at the UN along these sentiments. India, which has close strategic and economic partnerships with the Islamic world, cannot just turn away from the Palestine issue when Israel carries out indiscriminate bombing in the Gaza Strip. India also knows that Russia and China, which also have ambitions for the leadership of the Global South, have taken a more sympathetic position towards the Palestine issue. India cannot afford to be seen one-sided here. Hence, India continues its balancing act—it condemns the Hamas attack on Israel, expresses concerns over the civilian casualties in Palestine (by the Israeli attack) and reiterates its support for Palestinians statehood.

The Top Five

1 . Gaza | Between occupation and the deep blue sea

The tiny Mediterranean strip of land has been thrust into the spotlight once again after the October 7 attack by Hamas shattered Israel’s security model and brought the Palestine question back to the fore in West Asia. Stanly Johny writes in The Hindu Profiles.

2. The BRI at 10, some hits, many misses

Even though the tale of Chinese munificence is marred by unsavoury ground realities, all eyes will be on the future of the Belt and Road Initiative, write Harsh V Pant anmd Kalpita A. Mankikar.

3. The explosion of digital uncertainty

Artificial Intelligence is the new threat that the world is contemplating now; but this is only the beginning, writes M.K. Narayanan.

4. Muhammad Yunus | Pioneer of microfinance

The Nobel Peace Prize winner from Bangladesh, who showed the potential of microfinance in eradicating poverty, is facing more than 150 cases since the Awami League came to power in 2008, writes Arun Devnath in The Hindu Profiles.

5. Endless woes

The October 7 Sabbath attack that Hamas carried out in Israel should be condemned without any hesitation. At the same time, collectively punishing Gaza in the name of fighting Hamas and carrying out indiscriminate bombing that is killing hundreds a day do not make Israel any better than Hamas, writes The Hindu in this editorial.

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