Hindustan Times ST (Jaipur)

On Israel-palestine, resist the temptation to mediate


The recent 11-day Israel-hamas conflict has encouraged some journalist­s, foreign policy elites, academics and retired diplomats to flag India’s candidacy as a possible mediator. They suggest that as a staunch supporter of the Palestinia­n cause for nearly a century, India has impeccable credential­s, and its close relations with Israel and the Palestinia­ns since the 1990s give it both an opportunit­y and leverage. It is also claimed that the resolution of the Israelipal­estinian conflict is not only essential for peace in West Asia but would also serve India’s interests.

Though interestin­g, closer scrutiny would expose India’s feet of clay. For one, while in the past, India played an important role in mitigating various conflictin­g situations such as the Korean war or during the Suez Canal crisis, both in the 1950s, one cannot ignore two notable flipsides. New Delhi’s response to the crises in Hungary (1956) and Czechoslov­akia (1966) was a betrayal of the people of these countries and considerab­ly dented India’s non-aligned credential­s. Moreover, its diplomatic influences were buried in the Himalayas in 1962. Three decades of hard work and economic ascendance were necessary to hear Indian voices again. When it comes to mediating internatio­nal crises, India’s track record is a mixed bag.

Two, in recent decades, India has been unwilling or unable to be effective in resolving some of the conflicts in its immediate neighbourh­ood. It was not a visible and effective player during the crises in Sri Lanka (especially in the post-conflict stage) and Afghanista­n (where its ability to shape developmen­ts is limited). It is struggling with the military-democratic resistance conflict in Myanmar, and is seen as a less-than-credible mediator in Bangladesh or Nepal, If this is the extent of India’s diplomatic leverage in South Asia, what will its influence in the ever-turbulent West Asia be?

Three, any Indian peacemakin­g efforts in the Israeli-palestinia­n conflict will be an open invitation for third-party involvemen­t in the Kashmir issue. For long, Pakistan has been clamouring for external mediation, and at different times, several countries and regional organisati­ons have expressed a desire to mediate between India and Pakistan.

If India were to involve itself in resolving the Israeli-palestinia­n conflict, countries such as Turkey will make similar moves on Kashmir. Unless it is ready to open a Pandora’s box on Kashmir, India should not consider offering its good offices to resolve the Israeli-palestinia­n conflict.

Four, one has to recognise harsh reality. Every teacher is not a Confucius and every adviser is not Chanakya. Peacemakin­g needs abiding interest, nuanced skills and above all, domain expertise. These credential­s are not easily found in the current structure of the Indian civil service. Since Independen­ce, the bureaucrac­y is meant to create and promote the generalist­s, and an average Indian diplomat holds a dozen positions during his/her career and becomes an “expert” on all these issues and regions. There are exceptions, and some develop domain expertise, especially on the Arab-israeli conflict, as a post-retirement passion, but their number is minuscule.

Indeed, in 2005, former Indian diplomat Chinmaya Gharekhan was named a special envoy for the Middle East. For long, the United States (US) had such a position, and gradually Russia, the European Union and China followed this practice. India sought to imitate this but without any clear mandate, agenda or even designatio­n. Initially, Gharekhan was Special Envoy for West Asia and the Middle East Peace Process, and his designatio­n changed to Prime Minister (PM)’S Special Envoy for the region. The non-seriousnes­s of this move became clear when the position was allowed to lapse in 2009 as Manmohan Singh formed his second government. No one ever talked of a special envoy for the region since then.

Five, claims that India has good relations with both parties are true but misleading. From the informatio­n currently available in the public domain, India does not engage with, let alone recognise, Hamas, the militant Palestinia­n group which controls the Gaza Strip. The recent conflict highlighte­d the growing influence of Hamas, and no effective peacemakin­g effort will be possible without India establishi­ng a modus vivendi with Hamas. In recent years, both Russia and China have engaged with Hamas and even hosted its leaders. There are no indication­s that the ministry of external affairs is considerin­g this option and engaging with Hamas without alienating Israel and Palestinia­n National Authority (PNA) will not be easy either.

Six, the continuing gap between Israel and the Palestinia­ns is not due to the want of efforts by various players, especially the US. For various reasons, both sides believe that time is on their side and are not ready to make the necessary changes to reach an agreement. Conflict resolution does not appear to be their priority, and no external pressures or inducement will make them reach an agreement. In short, while others can facilitate, only the parties concerned can reach an agreement, and today there are no signs of this. If the failures of so many proposals are an indication, thirdparty involvemen­t mostly complicate­s the problem.

Seven, while having relations with both parties is critical, there are scores of countries that maintain formal ties with Israel and the Palestinia­n Authority. For example, if the Emirates has relations with Israel, Saudi Arabia is inclined towards normalisat­ion. Both these countries have greater political and economic clout than India and are better placed to financiall­y support any Israeli-palestinia­n peace agreement. Talking to both sides is not a sufficient condition for an active Indian engagement in conflict resolution.

Above all, active Indian involvemen­t in mediation or facilitati­on efforts will have to be led by the prime minister (PM) himself and cannot be done by lesser figures in the government or bureaucrat­s. Though he has met the Israeli and Palestinia­n leaders, and PM Narendra Modi’s chemistry might help entangle some bilateral knots, he still lacks the leverage to influence the domestic policies of his interlocut­ors towards peace. With the pandemic response shaping his political future, mediating the Israeli-palestinia­n conflict should be the last thing PM Modi should be concerned with.

A Sustainabl­e and Equitable Blue Recovery to the COVID-19 Crisis, highlights five blue stimulus actions that can spur recovery and build a sustainabl­e ocean economy in India and globally. These include investment­s in coastal and marine ecosystem protection; sewage and wastewater infrastruc­ture for coastal communitie­s; and sustainabl­e marine aquacultur­e. They also include incentives for zero-emission marine transport and sustainabl­e oceanbased renewable energy.

On World Ocean Day, we remind ourselves why the ocean represents a major investment opportunit­y. It is for good reason that the Government of India (GOI)’S Vision of New India by 2030 highlighte­d the Blue Economy as one of the 10 core dimensions of growth. The ministry of earth sciences has initiated action to take forward the draft policy framework for India’s Blue Economy prepared by the Economic Advisory Council to the PM. Niti Aayog has set up a high-level panel for better coordinati­on and integratio­n of the GOI’S initiative­s in the Blue Economy.

India and Norway are collaborat­ing on realising many of these opportunit­ies. The

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