Reading Modi’s mind

UN Vote On Jerusalem

By Dr DK Giri
(Prof, International Politics, JMI)

The US President Donald Trump’s declaration on 6th December recognising Jerusalem as the capital of Israel had surprised and shocked the world. But, the UN General Assembly vote on 21 December condemning US decision was less of a surprise. Out of all the UN members, 128 countries voted in support of the Resolution that condemns the US action, 35 countries abstained, and the rest did not vote, many countries could not vote due to non-payment of their arrears etc!
Curiously, many foreign policy observers are surprised that India voted along with other 127 countries against the US declaration; India did not abstain let alone vote in support of the US, as India and Israel are moving unprecedentedly close as friends, as the current Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu had said, “it is a relationship made in heaven”. The US too has decidedly titled towards India in the Indo-Pacific region for various reasons including countering China. Recently, the US had announced India as a ‘global regional power’ while criticising both China and Russia.
What were New Delhi’s calculations prompting Indian decision to vote against the US? Did India think that it should not topple its applecart with the Islamic world, especially some strong strategic partners like Iran? Or, did India downplay the UN resolution as it is non-binding? Or as is its wont, India voted in accordance with its traditional foreign policy. The Ministry of External Affairs, predictably, said, ‘Indian position on Palestine is consistent and independent, not influenced by a Third Party’.
However, BJP Rajya Sabha Member Subramanian Swamy, a long-time Israel supporter differed with his government saying, “It is a huge mistake to vote against the US decision, it is not in our national interest”. He added that the BJP government followed the foreign policy made by the Congress Party.
Undeniably, India’s Palestine policy has been a very delicate one, walking a tight rope. Going by principles of justice and fairness, India will have to stand by Palestine which is under long occupation and constant threat of Israel. From our national interest point of view, mainly security, India should be an ally of Israel and US. In the past, Congress governments’ policy towards Palestine was driven by Muslim votes, back home. BJP has greater leeway as it is much less dependent on these votes.
Undoubtedly, Prime Minister Modi is capable of springing surprises both at home and foreign affairs, like he de-hyphenated Palestine and Israel in his approach. He met Benjamin Netanyahu in the US, without meeting the Palestine President around the same time, visited Israel without going to Palestine. Then, why did he not support the US in UNGA, even if the Resolution was politically innocuous as non-binding? One would not have been startled by his support of Trump’s decision.
The explanation for India’s decision may have several assumptions. First, India did not want to lose all its good relations with the Arab world, face an oil embargo, and incur hostility for many Indians working in the Arab world. India has crafted a strategic partnership with Iran through the Chabahar port which connects India to Afghanistan and Central Asia, and more importantly, kills the indispensability of Pakistan for securing access to central Asia.
The second reason trotted out by some is the Muslim votes against BJP, or Muslim outrage against the decision. The Muslim vote is not a factor, as BJP can hardly count on these votes, and there is little evidence to show that Indian electorate votes on foreign policy issues. Yes, admittedly, Muslim outrage may be a concern. Under BJP rule, communal harmony is already so disturbed, with cow vigilantes, church vandalism, etc., the party could hardly risk another mass minority outrage. This concern could be a contributory factor.
The third could be that India has taken Israel and US into confidence on this vote. As said before, the vote is non-binding. After the dust settles in, countries may come around to support the mighty USA on Jerusalem. India could play an ‘honest broker’ for both US and Israel with many Muslim countries. Israel is used to aggressive and hostile posturing by many countries. It could ignore India’s slight on such a resolution. Netanyahu is visiting India next month, and has not cancelled the visit after the vote. Even the US could ignore it as this vote was about scoring rhetorical points.
The fourth could be that NaMo was too engrossed in crucial Gujarat elections, could not pay attention to rigorous thinking on pros and cons of this vote, and allowed himself to be persuaded by the mandarins in South Block.
Understandably, there are usual arguments that Israel needs India more than we need it. India buys two-thirds of its defence material from Israel, likewise US needs India to counter China in Asian territory; it needs to tap into India’s huge market potential and so on. But to a dispassionate and discerning international politics expert, these arguments are vacuous. In real politik, it is the mutuality that sustains a relationship. Many would argue that India could have abstained, if not voted in favour of the US. That would have secured its new-found closeness with US as well as Israel.
Making allowance for careful and deft reasoning by NaMo and his team, not the bureaucratic inertia, it is possible that India is playing a bit hard for both Israel and US. India has built an image for itself for ethics and scruples in foreign affairs over a period of time. Although the US is warming up to India, it has not been unequivocal in its policy in South Asia. So, India could not, all of a sudden, jump into the bandwagon of US-Israel by sacrificing everything it has achieved in terms of goodwill and active support from many countries. In recent vote in ICJ election, 183 countries supported India, whereas US had voted against, in solidarity with its fellow-Security Council member Britain.
A word on Jerusalem, which is emblematic of the Israel-Palestine conflict: Jerusalem is the spiritual citadel of Jews, Christians and Muslims. After the end of Arab-Israel war in 1948, Jerusalem was partitioned into West and East, under Israel and Palestine occupation respectively. In the six days of war of June 1967, Israel snatched East Jerusalem from Jordanian forces and annexed it and Israel Parliament had then declared that Jerusalem was united. Jerusalem is, however, key part of a possible two-State solution.
The entire world, Europe, Arab, Asia and Africa, have reservations about giving Jerusalem away to Israel. America would consider Jerusalem as a part of Israel for its domestic compulsions. Way back in 1995, US Congress had passed the Jerusalem Embassy Act, but Presidents Bill Clinton, G.W. Bush, and Obama were deferring its international application with Presidential waivers every six month. Donald Trump kept his election campaign promise, and implemented the Act.
Given that the US decision was anchored in domestic reasons, India could ‘wait and watch’ and has, perhaps, done right in voting against. But it will have to think deep and hard, before taking the next step. Prime Minister Netanyahu’s visit could be the first test of India’s deft diplomacy on Israel. — INFA