In 1978, India’s External Affairs Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee made a call to the international community to “raise their voice in protest against the injustice being meted out to Palestinians”. In a public meeting too, Vajpayee had then asserted that the land belongs to the Arabs, and that Israel has to vacate that land. From Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, India has thoroughly supported the Palestinian cause in all its geopolitical and geo-economic considerations. In September 1950, Nehru officially recognised the State of Israel, while the Palestinian State was recognised by India in 1988. Modi, too has furthered this legacy. In a joint statement with President Mahmoud Abbas during his visit to Palestine in February 2018,Modi asserted that India hopes that Palestine will soon become an independent country. And Modi’s support to Palestine has also continued consistently, despite a contrary – but limited – popular perception at home bearing some pro-Israeli emotions. In 2020 alone, India donated $5 million to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) in support of the cause. In the UN General Assembly session in December 2020, India supported the Palestinian cause, and “urged both parties to re‑engage to advance the goal of a two‑State solution”. Also, it was highlighted at this session that “India provides scholarships and trainings to more than 200,000 Palestinians every year” and India “pledged $10 million over the coming three years” to UNRWA for the Palestinian cause.
It is imperative now to briefly understand the Palestinian issue in a perspective. Since the 16th century and until 1917, the region was ruled by the Ottoman Empire – though with a very brief Egyptian regime in the 19th century. At the end of 1917, Palestine was controlled by the British who had already announced their support to establish a national home for the Jews through the Balfour Declaration of 1917. After the first world war, Great Britain was granted the Mandate to rule Palestine – which was also endorsed by the League of Nations. This British Mandate of Palestine was functional till 1947, when the United Nations came up with a Partition Plan envisaged under the General Assembly Resolution 181 (II) on the future government of Palestine. The resolution, that was adopted on 29 November 1947, mentioned that the British Mandate will be terminated, and two independent states (Arab and Jewish), along with a Special International Regime for the City of Jerusalem will be established in Palestine no later than 1 October 1948. The Arab leadership however rejected this Resolution (calling for two states), and solicited their rights to national self-determination as per the provisions of the United Nations Charter.
As the British control ended in 1948, the Jewish people declared an independent State of Israel, which was not acceptable to the Arabs. Then began the Arab-Israel conflict in 1948, which helped Israel control a large area of the region, while Gaza Strip and the West Bank went under the Arab control. This was, in fact, an actualisation of the Jewish nationalism that was seeking a separate homeland for itself. In June 1964, the League of Arab States – a regional congregation of the Arab countries founded in 1945 in Cairo – helped form a Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) to fight for the cause of the Palestinian people. However, the Six-Day War happened in 1967, in which Gaza Strip and the West Bank were also occupied by Israel.
The Palestinians too resisted through protests and rebellions often termed as “Intifada” which happened first between 1987 and 1993 (when the first Oslo Accord was signed), and later during the early 2000s(known as the Al-Aqsa Intifada).The Oslo process began as a peace process between Israel and Palestine with the signing of two Oslo Accords in 1993 and 1995. This peace process was based on UN Security Council Resolutions and its mandate was to provide the Palestinian people their right to self-determination. In July 2000, President Bill Clinton brought together Israeli leader Ehud Barak and the PLO leader Yasser Arafat at Camp David for a peace accord. Clinton’s efforts however failed. The Al-Aqsa or the second intifada happened after the failure of this peace talk. In 2015, Abbas had blamed Israel of its lack of commitment to follow the provisions of the Oslo process. The conflict between Israel and Palestine has however continued with intermittent violence more often. Most recently, the Arabs became closer to Israel through the Abraham Accord brokered by the United States and signed in September 2020. The agreement, however, has lost its sheen now with the recent Israeli attack on Al-Aqsa mosque, and the ongoing conflict.
In recent times, Israel too has been facing domestic political instability. In the last two years, it has seen four legislative elections, the last one being held on 23 March 2021. Israel has 120 seats in the Knesset – its unicameral parliament. In the recent elections, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-oriented Likud Party won only 30 seats – too less to form a government. Owing to its failure to form a government, the President of Israel on 5 May 2021 invited opposition leader Yair Lapid, who belongs to the centre-oriented Yesh Atid Party, to form a government. Now, the ongoing conflict in Palestine that began at the Al-Aqsa mosque, is happening during the regime of Netanyahu, a caretaker Prime Minister. Netanyahu is adopting all means – precisely the ones that could arouse Jewish sentiments and Jewish nationalism – to come to power. This is creating hindrance for Lapid who is seeking to mobilise political support to form his government. Before Lapid could mobilise efforts to form a government, Netanyahu led his people into an undesired, and a violent, conflict.
Netanyahu, who is already facing multiple charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust, intends to delay the process of government formation. In all likelihood he foresees himself as heading the next government too, and is comfortable risking even a civil war for his people! Therefore, in all likelihood, Netanyahu’s ouster will only strengthen Israel’s parliamentary democratic system. It is in Israel’s own national and geopolitical interests to remove Netanyahu from office, and give Lipad a chance to bridge the divide within the Israeli society, and bring an end to the crisis and killings that erupted recently. A resemblance of the situation can be seen from the example of the US presidential elections, when in January 2021, the Americans accused their outgoing president Donald Trump of inciting violence at the Capitol, and considered him as a threat to national security. They went ahead to seek his removal from office even before Joe Biden’s inauguration!
Considering the political instability in Israel, and the ongoing violence, India definitely has a larger role to play in its extended neighbourhood. On 10 February 2018, Palestine conferred on Modi its highest honour for foreign dignitaries titled “Grand Collar of the State of Palestine” in Ramallah. This also brings with itself much responsibility for India to exercise its regional influence in the current context. In our own geo-strategic interests and for the restoration of regional security at large, India must intervene in the ongoing conflict and play a pivotal role in ensuring peace and regional stability in West Asia – a crucial component of India’s Indo-Pacific construct as well.