INDIA’S VOTE ON JERUSALEM
In the UN vote, India took into account the reaction of Israel and the US and decided it could deal with any negative impact
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.