There was big hype surrounding Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Israel visit; naturally so, as it was the first visit by an Indian prime minister to a country which has earned notoriety worldwide because of the military occupation of Arab territory for half a century.
In fact, Modi’s visit coincided with the 50th anniversary of the Israeli conquest of the West Bank and East Jerusalem that saw hundreds of thousands of Palestinian homes uprooted and substituted by Jews-only settlements after the infamous 1967 Six-Day War (Israel’s action has a glaring parallel to Pakistan-occupied Kashmir).
In December, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) passed a resolution condemning “all measures aimed at altering demographic composition, character and status of the Palestinian territory, occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem”, a resolution which even the Barack Obama administration refused to block, despite Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s earnest plea to the then US president.
The last time the UNSC had adopted such a biting resolution on Israeli settlements was 36 years ago. The United States, which had, for decades been a staunch backer of Israeli interests said this about the resolution: “The US has called for settlements to stop for five decades and that allowing its passage was in line with bipartisan US policy.”
The United Kingdom’s ambassador to the United Nations was even more forthright when he said that the resolution was a “sober recognition that the two-state solution is slipping away and that Israel’s settlement expansion is corroding the possibility of a lasting peace in the Middle East”.
Modi was visiting Israel in the backdrop of this spectre: A 50-year occupation haunting the West Asian country. In March, Netanyahu visited China and met President Xi Jinping. The Chinese leader was quite categorical that Israel must work towards a two-state solution with East Jerusalem as the Palestinian capital. The same sentiment was also conveyed to the Israeli government when former Chinese president Jiang Zemin visited Israel in 2000.
India too, had a long-held diplomatic tradition of asking for a peaceful settlement in West Asia and the creation of Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital. This has been reiterated by successive India-Israeli meetings and confabulations. To emphasise the point, every Indian dignitary visiting Israel always visited Palestine. A succession of foreign ministers did the same. Even President Pranab Mukherjee followed this tradition when he went on a four-day visit to Israel and Palestine in October 2015.
Modi has chosen to break with the tradition of hyphenating Israel with Palestine; he has also decided not to invoke the long-held resolution of making East Jerusalem the capital of the Palestinian state as the only way of ensuring lasting peace in the region.
Our prime minister has been praised by many for de-ideologising India’s foreign policy by refusing to carry the Palestinian millstone around his neck (but then these Modi supporters should be asked if the United States, UK and China were merely indulging in ideological posturing when they read the riot act to Israel over the last six months).
Let us accept the argument — for the time being — that Modi has chosen to tread the non-ideological path keeping in mind India's larger interest. After all, Israel has been a reliable ally, even during turbulent times.
Our first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, took a strategic decision to recognise Israel in 1950; India and Israel established consular relations in 1953. But Nehru made it clear that given the geostrategic environment existing then, the diplomatic relationship would have to wait. Israeli leadership understood India’s constraints and the two countries went ahead with collaboration in different fields.
Israel, which established itself as the manufacturer of sophisticated military equipment, came to India's aid during the India-China War of 1962. Israel also extended military support to India during our wars with Pakistan, both in 1965 and 1971. When India went nose-to-nose with Pakistan during the 1999 Kargil War, Israel provided laser-guided missiles for our fighter planes to decimate Pakistani forces stationed there with precision bombing, without crossing the Line of Control: At a time when Pakistani soldiers had the advantage of having the high ground.
For the last few decades, we have had Israeli support in several areas: Agriculture, water conservation, and space technology, especially after the PV Narasimha Rao government upgraded India’s relationship with Israel to a diplomatic level in 1992, exactly around the time when China established diplomatic relations with Israel.
Israeli president Ezer Weizman visited India in 1997 and Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon came to Delhi in 2003 and concluded agreements for a strong foundation for cooperation in agriculture and other fields.
As the Jerusalem Post reported in May: “Undoubtedly, agriculture is at least one of the two main pillars in India-Israel relations – definitely the main pillar from the civilian angle.”
It went on to put on record the contribution of Israel to the agricultural growth in different parts of our country over the last two decades: “From the blossoming mango orchards of Haryana to the drip-irrigated vegetable nurseries of Gujarat state, Israeli agricultural know-how has become a staple resource of farms across the Indian subcontinent.”
Israel has set up 26 Centres of Excellence across nine states that have benefited from Israel’s expertise in agriculture and water conservation since 2009.
The hype was that Narendra Modi’s visit to Israel — the first by an Indian prime minister — would take the relationship to a much higher plane, especially when our leader was ready to jettison a direct reference to the Palestinian question that troubled the Israeli leadership.
Many of our TV anchors went gung-ho in the anticipation that Israel would provide India with unmanned drones with which our defence forces would destroy Pakistani military training centres and eliminate Pakistani jihadis just as the United States did in the aftermath of the 9/11 attack. Many of our ‘patriotic’ channels had, in the last week, sent out warnings to the Pakistani establishment that their days of supporting terror were numbered and they would begin to face the music as soon as Modi-Netanyahu agreement was concluded.
For all the fanfare, the Modi-Netanyahu accord, unveiled on Wednesday night, turned out to be a tame affair. There were the customary references to fighting terror but there was no mention of Israel supplying India unmanned drones or any other military or technological support that would lend India an edge over Pakistan. In fact, military and strategic cooperation took a back seat.
Even none of the seven civil agreements signed between the countries seemed to lift the relationship to a different plane. Most of them were routine assertions of the existing relationship.
If that is the case — that after weeks and weeks of hyping the Indian prime minister's maiden visit to Israel, no new breakthroughs were achieved — it is nothing short of a letdown.
Many Indians have been left wondering if we made a mountain out of a molehill.
Updated Date: Jul 06, 2017 13:06 PM