In the UN vote, In­dia took into ac­count the re­ac­tion of Is­rael and the US and de­cided it could deal with any neg­a­tive im­pact

India Today - - UPFRONT - By C.R. Gharekhan

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump could take the de­ci­sion on De­cem­ber 6 to recog­nise Jerusalem as the cap­i­tal of Is­rael with­out wor­ry­ing about any mean­ing­ful back­lash from the Arab states. Un­like in 1973, when the Arabs ef­fec­tively em­ployed the ‘oil weapon’ against the US and others for their pro-Is­rael stance fol­low­ing the Yom Kip­pur war, the US today is a net ex­porter of oil and gas; the Arab states are bleed­ing them­selves in in­ternecine wars, the Mid­dle East is in tur­moil, and some Arab regimes are in un­de­clared but un­am­bigu­ous al­liance with Is­rael, bound to­gether by a shared ha­tred and fear of Iran. The Arabs could do very lit­tle to hurt the US be­yond pass­ing a res­o­lu­tion in the UN Gen­eral As­sem­bly. The Pales­tinian search for an al­ter­na­tive ‘bro­ker’ will not lead any­where. For good or bad, there is still no sub­sti­tute for Amer­ica as an in­ter­me­di­ary in Is­raeli-Pales­tinian talks, how­ever bi­ased the Amer­i­cans are in favour of Is­rael. In any case, it is Is­rael that calls the shots, not the US.

In­dia’s vote in favour of Res­o­lu­tion ES-10/18 came as a sur­prise and dis­ap­point­ment to a few. Some doubt had arisen be­cause the gov­ern­ment had de­parted from the tra­di­tional for­mu­la­tions re­gard­ing Pales­tine. ‘East Jerusalem’ was men­tioned as fu­ture Pales­tine’s cap­i­tal in the Manama dec­la­ra­tion of Jan­uary 2016 af­ter the In­doArab fo­rum, in the 2016 Rus­sia-In­dia-China com­mu­niqué as well as Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi’s mes­sage in 2016 on the oc­ca­sion of the In­ter­na­tional Day of Sol­i­dar­ity with the Pales­tinian Peo­ple on Novem­ber 29. In 2017, ‘East Jerusalem’ was con­spic­u­ous by its ab­sence in these state­ments. Our pos­i­tive vote re­claimed the good­will of the Arabs and seems to have re­as­sured Pales­tine, which had felt ag­grieved when the PM paid a stand­alone visit to Is­rael. The Arabs lob­bied with our gov­ern­ment for sup­port, but in those meet­ings the In­dian in­ter­locu­tors re­port­edly did not go be­yond re­peat­ing the line of In­dia fol­low­ing an in­de­pen­dent po­si­tion, un­in­flu­enced by pres­sure from any source. Our af­fir­ma­tive vote has con­firmed an in­de­pen­dent pol­icy.

While de­cid­ing on our vote, the gov­ern­ment no doubt took into ac­count the pos­si­ble re­ac­tion of Is­rael and the US and came to the con­fi­dent con­clu­sion that it could com­fort­ably deal with any neg­a­tive im­pact from ei­ther. Ever since the then PM Narasimha Rao es­tab­lished diplo­matic re­la­tions with Is­rael in 1992, our ties with Is­rael have grown steadily and sub­stan­tially. One of the fac­tors in­flu­enc­ing the de­ci­sion on diplo­matic re­la­tions at the time was the ex­pec­ta­tion that the Jewish lobby in the US could be help­ful for In­dia; the days of ‘HindiAmer­i­can’ bhai-bhai were still in the fu­ture.

The Is­raeli de­fence in­dus­try is heav­ily de­pen­dent on the In­dian mar­ket; we buy more than one-third of its de­fence pro­duc­tion. Co­op­er­a­tion in other fields has also ex­panded. Bi­lat­eral trade has in­creased from $200 mil­lion in 1992 to $3.5 bil­lion in 2015-16 and is ex­pected to reach $10 bil­lion in the next five years if the bi­lat­eral trade agree­ment is con­cluded. Most im­por­tantly, In­dia is ex­tremely im­por­tant for Is­rael—both po­lit­i­cally and diplo­mat­i­cally. One vote not to their lik­ing is not go­ing to change any­thing in Is­rael’s per­cep­tion of In­dia. Mr Ne­tanyahu will not can­cel his visit to In­dia in Jan­uary. The ques­tion is: will he go back with some com­pen­satory ges­ture from us?

With the US, the re­la­tion­ship might have reached a stage when an oc­ca­sional vote will not have a knee-jerk ad­verse ef­fect. It is im­per­a­tive for us to demon­strate our in­de­pen­dent pol­icy from time to time to for­eign pow­ers as well as to our own peo­ple. Others will only re­spect us if we re­spect our­selves. The two coun­tries have a num­ber of eq­ui­ties in each other. Pres­i­dent Trump’s strate­gic re­view doc­u­ment has sev­eral pos­i­tive ref­er­ences to In­dia and he has spo­ken of help­ing In­dia be­come a lead­ing global power. The gov­ern­ment of In­dia has rightly taken his and his UN am­bas­sador’s threats in its stride. Let us see how the threat to cut off aid is im­ple­mented with re­spect to Pak­istan which even co-spon­sored the anti-US res­o­lu­tion.

The writer is for­mer per­ma­nent rep­re­sen­ta­tive of In­dia and un­der sec­re­tary gen­eral in the UN. He also served as spe­cial en­voy for Mid­dle East.

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