January 08, 2023

India Resiling from Palestinian Cause

INDIA abstained on a resolution adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on December 31, 2022 that asked International Court of Justice (ICJ) to render its opinion on the legal consequences of Israel’s prolonged occupation of Palestinian territories. The resolution was passed with 87 countries supporting and 26 opposing.  India abstained along with 52 other countries. 

The resolution talks of the legal consequences of Israeli occupation, settlement and annexation, including measures aimed at altering the demographic composition,  character and status of the Holy City of Jerusalem and from Israel’s adoption of related discriminatory legislations and measures.

By not voting for this resolution, India has signaled that it is resiling from its long-held position of firm support to the Palestinian cause and for a two state solution.  

Israel has been in occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza ever since the 1967 war.  Since then, despite several United Nations resolutions calling for an end to the occupation, Israel has been steadily allowing Jewish settlements in the West Bank and demolishing Palestinian-inhabited areas in East Jerusalem and changing its demographic character.

The Israeli plan has always been to annex the whole of Jerusalem and the West Bank by driving away the Palestinians living in these areas or by forcing them to live in apartheid conditions as non-citizens of the Israeli State. The open annexation of East Jerusalem through land grabs has changed the status quo of that city. Jerusalem was declared to be the “eternal capital” of Israel.  Successive Israeli governments have facilitated the settlement of half a million Jewish settlers on Palestinian lands in the West Bank.  

The nearly two million Palestinian people in the Gaza strip live in prison-like conditions and they are subjected to constant aerial bombardment and blockades.  The wall built criss-crossing the West Bank with Palestinian enclaves has instituted an apartheid system.  In the last two years, the Israeli State is moving towards the annexation of the West Bank. 

The new government installed with Benjamin Netanyahu as the prime minister is the most far-right coalition government set-up so far with racist Jewish nationalist parties and ultra-orthodox religious groups.  The agreement of the coalition parties states that “advance and develop settlements in all parts of Israel, including Judea and Samaria” (the biblical names for the West Bank). The agreement also promises to annex the West Bank “while choosing  the time and considering the national and international interests of the state of Israel”. 

The brutal colonial rule has involved grabbing of Palestinian lands and olive groves for setting up Jewish settlements, the demolition of Palestinian houses by bulldozers and arrests of anyone who resists these repressive measures. More and more, any form of protest or resistance is met by shootings by the Israeli armed forces. According to the United Nations, Israeli forces killed at least 171 Palestinians in the West Bank and occupied East Jerusalem in 2022, including more than 30 children – one of the worst years in this regard.  At least 9,000 others were injured.

The new far-right government will go all-out to suppress the Palestinians in the West Bank as one of the coalition parties, the Religious Zionist Party, comprises mainly West Bank settlers.  The minister for national security, Itamar Ben-Gvir, who belongs to the extremist Jewish Power Party is notorious for his hate speech against Palestinians and Arabs.  His ministry oversees the Israel border police in the West Bank which also polices the Palestinian inhabitants. 

The UN General Assembly resolution, therefore, comes at an appropriate time when the new Israeli extremist government is poised to step up its aggressive actions in the occupied territories.

India, in the past, has not supported resolutions in the UN Human Rights Council and the UN General Assembly, which called for external enquiry into internal human right issues in any country or when it concerns the International Criminal Court which India has not acceded to.  But this plea cannot be taken to justify its abstention on the current resolution.  First of all, the ICJ, which India recognises, is being asked to look into the matter which does not concern the internal affairs of a sovereign country, but of an occupied territory. India still maintains that the West Bank and East Jerusalem are occupied territories.  Moreover, the ICJ had given an advisory opinion at the instance of the UN General Assembly in 2004 about the legal consequences of the construction of a wall in the occupied Palestinian territory. 

The reason for India’s backtracking on the issue is its giving precedence to strategic ties with Israel and hence soft-pedaling the Palestinian cause.  The Modi government’s increased proximity to Israel is well-known.  Netanyahu, when he was the prime minister previously, was close to Modi and they are ideological soul-mates. The RSS-BJP are admirers of the Zionist hostility to the Palestinians and Arabs. As per the United States plan, India has joined the I2U2 (India, Israel, UAE, United States) forum in West Asia. 

The Netanyahu government took office the day before the UN General Assembly resolution was adopted.  India’s abstention can be seen as a goodwill gesture to the Netanyahu government.

The Palestinian people have undergone the travails of displacement and colonial occupation for well over seven decades.  Millions of them have lived as refugees outside Palestine ever since the Israelis expelled them from their homeland in 1948 and subjugated them under military occupation. India, from the time of our independence struggle, has been in full sympathy and solidarity with the Palestinian people.  But now the blinkered Hindutva view of the BJP rulers is leading India to side with the oppressors of these valiant people. 

(January 4, 2023)