Cat out of the Bag: India’s geopolitical abstention is not an approval of Israeli offensive against Palestine


By Gaurav Sharma

Last week in Geneva, the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) held a Palestine initiated resolution against Israeli military offensive in Gaza last year, a pact which India chose to abstain from.

The development was preceded by another India abstention, that of granting an NGO status by the United Nations to an entity with close links to the Hamas, a Palestinian Islamic organization labelled as a terror outfit by an overwhelming number of nations.

The media, including most of the left wing newspapers such as the Indian Express, Hindu et cetera dubbed the move as a “tectonic shift in the diplomatic position of India”.

Indo-Israel bonhomie

However, India’s bonhomie with Israel started almost two decades ago, when in 1992 under the leadership of the foresightful PV Narasimha Rao India revoked a UN resolution that equated “Zionism with racism”.

The upswing in relations which took place in 1998 under the NDA government headed by the flamboyant Atal Behari Vajpayee was directed towards appeasing the Jewish lobby in America, with a view to concretize India’s nuclear ambitions. A host of Indo-Israel exchanges took place during the time, including the visit of the veteran Marxist leader Jyoti Basu to Tel Aviv.

Following the reign of such leaders, bilateral relations between the two nations have gradually been carved out in the form of deepening military ties and expansionary counter-terrorism military cooperation.

Going back in time, before the 1990’s, India was sympathetic to the cause of Palestine. Working under the Nehruvian model of Non Alignment, India moved to support Palestinian self-determination. This was done keeping in mind the religious partition of India and Pakistan, which in turn served as an impetus to boost ties with Muslim states around the world.

India was in fact the first non-Arab nation to recognise Palestine Liberation Organization(PLO) as the representative of the Palestinian people and further backed the legitimate right of the Palestinian people to statehood, pledging its “consistent and unwavering” support.

Presently, India has mellowed its stand on Palestine. It has denounced Palestinian bombings as suicide attacks, assaults which it previously saw as justified in light of the discriminatory Israeli policies against the Palestinians. Non Aligned Movement’s radical anti-Israeli resolutions have been attempted to be seriously moderated by India.

Plans are also afoot for Narendra Modi to become the first Prime Minister to visit Israel in the near future and strengthen Indo-Israel relations further.

Diplomatic shift

So what has caused the sudden shift in Indian diplomatic stance? Is it mere hypocrisy on part of India to turn back on its avowed support for the Palestinian cause?

India decision to forego the nuanced line of approach is related to strategic considerations. It is a realization of the fact that a pro-Arab stance was not justly answering its geopolitical concerns.

None of the Arab nations have supported India in backing the resolution of problems in Kashmir. Rather most of them have sided with Pakistan and moreover used the Organization of Islamic Conference for strengthening jihadi insurgency in Kashmir.


Another major consideration behind the India abstention is its strong opposition to the International Criminal Court(ICC), an outfit whose legality India shrouds away from acknowledging. India opposes the international organization due to the simple fact that it is autocratically presided over by the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council(UNSC).

The members, namely Britain, United States, France, Russia and China can launch investigations into human rights abuses at their behest while also giving them the privilege to scuttle moves to direct similar investigations in their own country.

If India were to support the resolution against Israel, it would have created and reflected notions that it supports the ICC, which would have resulted in a backfire effect that would have given it the leeway to launch presently forgotten allegations of human rights abuses by India in Kashmir.

In this regard, the remarks of the External Affairs Ministry are worth pondering over; “There is no change in India’s long-standing position on support to the Palestinian cause.”

While detractors may hold the move as a measure to placate Arab or Muslim anger in the aftermath of the UNHRC vote, it would be pertinent to remember that the vote was just an abstention and not an approval of Israeli military activity in the Gaza.