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30 July 2014, Gateway House

A confusing stand on Gaza

Historically, India has supported the Palestinian cause but today, shares strong diplomatic relations with both West Bank and Tel Aviv. India's vote at the UNHRC has provoked much debate within the country as it marks a distinct shift in the government's stand from a few weeks ago when it was reluctant to even discuss the Gaza crisis in Parliament

Former Ambassador of the Republic of India to Italy

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India’s vote in support of the UN Human Rights Council resolution for a probe into Israel’s offensive on Gaza has aroused much debate within the country as it is a considerable change of stand from a few weeks back. The resolution, passed on July 24, condemns Israel’s failure to end its prolonged occupation in ‘The Occupied Palestinian Territories’ and the systematic violations of international human rights and fundamental freedoms. It also recommends that Switzerland, in its capacity as depositary of the Fourth Geneva Convention dispatch an independent, international commission of inquiry to investigate all violations of international humanitarian law and human rights law in the occupied territories, especially in the Gaza Strip and report to the council.

A few days before the UNHRC vote, Minister of External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj had vainly tried to prevent a discussion on the matter in the Rajya Sabha – the upper house of the Indian Parliament. When the discussion finally took place on the Chair’s insistence, the minister refused to let the House pass a resolution against Tel Aviv, arguing that as India was friends with both Israel and Palestine it would be inappropriate to say anything that might hurt either side.

Swaraj had proposed that the House pass a resolution asking Hamas to accept Egypt’s proposal for a ceasefire. At that time Egypt had extended the proposal without consulting Hamas and there was little chance that the latter would have accepted such an offering.

Obviously, there needs to be more coherence and diplomatic rigour applied to India’s policy statements. In fact, New Delhi was party to the BRICS declaration at Fortaleza which says that “the resolution of the conflict is a fundamental component for building a sustainable peace in the Middle East. We call upon Israel and Palestine to resume negotiations leading to a two-state solution with a contiguous and economically viable Palestinian state existing side by side in peace with Israel, within mutually agreed and internationally recognised borders.”

India’s stand on the Gaza offensive or rather a lack of it speaks badly of a new government. The government’s inability to anticipate a resolution at UNHRC, and then being pushed to discuss the crisis in Parliament is unfortunate and shows its laxness. The fact of the matter is that left to itself India would like to take a position by staying silent on the entire issue, which in a way would absolve Israel even when it is clearly in the wrong. Such a position is not sustainable when India has a large domestic Muslim population and has supported the Palestine cause historically.

The media debate on the Indian government’s stand has thrown up a number of arguments. The obvious is that condemning Israel would sour the defence relationship. This argument is rather naïve and if taken to its logical conclusion, India will have to stay silent even if Israel continues with its ground operation and kills thousands more in Gaza.

There is another weakness in the argument. Diplomacy implies, and entails the ability to find the right words on all occasions. It is not being suggested that the Indian Parliament should have passed a resolution sharply condemning Israel. The point is that it was possible to have arrived at a balanced resolution and no attempt was made in that direction.

And lastly, a section of the media has come out with the reasoning that we owe nothing to the Arabs. This line of argument is anathema for a country which has a large expatriate population in the Middle East, supplies most of India’s energy requirements and has historical good will across the board.

Diplomacy is the art of taking care of one’s interests, at the same time upholding good principles. It is not a question of choosing one or the other.

Ambassador K. P. Fabian served in the Indian Foreign Service between 1964 and 2000, and is currently the President of AFPRO (Action For Food Production). He also holds the K. P. S. Menon Chair at the School of International Studies in Mahatma Gandhi University, Kerala.

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