India’s policy on Palestine has slowly changed over time, from one of solidarity with the cause and a distinct position in line with the non-aligned movement, to the present state of equivocation over Israel’s actions. This was exemplified in the recent vote of abstention in the UN Human Rights Council on the question of forwarding to the International Criminal Court the Davis Report on Israeli war crimes committed last year. The reasoning provided by the Ministry of External Affairs was that India, not being a signatory to the Rome Statute establishing the ICC, abstained because of the reference to the ICC in the resolution; there is no change in India’s policy towards Palestine. This is clearly a fig leaf of an argument as India had in 2012 voted in the UNHRC in favour of resolutions that contained references to the ICC, on Syria, for example. Last year India voted for a UNHRC resolution seeking an inquiry into Israel’s strikes on Gaza, and earlier this year for resolutions that spoke against Israeli settlements in occupied Palestine and for Palestinian self-determination. The sudden change in stance must therefore be attributed to a conversation between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Israeli media have revealed that Tel Aviv lobbied hard among various member-nations of the UNHRC to abstain: only Kenya, Ethiopia, Paraguay and Macedonia did so apart from India. Very few countries including Israel’s staunch ally, the U.S., have voted in its favour or abstained on resolutions on the occupation of Palestine, the Gaza blockade, human rights violations and illegal attacks on the Palestinian people. India’s stance in the UNHRC must count as a decisive shift from its time-honoured and well-established position on Palestine — notwithstanding the External Affairs Ministry’s claims.
The real reason for this shift must be the burgeoning strategic relations between the two countries. India is reported to have become the largest buyer of Israeli defence exports. And military cooperation between the two has expanded since the NDA came to power. Such cooperation had existed during the earlier regimes, but India had consistently sought to maintain its position on the Palestine issue, which was in line with that of nearly every country in the world, considering the brazen ways of Israel with respect to Palestine. This is not just a moral imperative. Israel has consistently flouted international law in its actions in the Gaza strip and in its persistence of policies such as that on settlements in the West Bank. This equivocation does not behove well for India’s stature as a nation committed to a just international order. And it betrays the Palestinian cause. Narrow instrumentalities cannot determine foreign policy.