Jerusalem Row:  India’s Diplomatic Resonance in UN

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Thus, the vote was tough for India not just it has close relations with the US but because of its evolving partnership with Israel as well. Since 1992, India and Israel have persistent diplomatic ties.


Sumera B Reshi


In the midst of numerous conjectures, India voted in favors of the United Nations General Assembly resolution that denounces the United States decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. The General Assembly voted 128 to 9, with 35 abstaining for the resolution demanding the United States to revoke its declaration. Though the resolution is non-binding and hence will not have any particular impact on the decision of the United States.  India, however, decided to abstain from voting on a resolution condemning Israel at the UN Human Rights Council for last year’s Gaza offensive is being seen in Israel as a “significant” change in New Delhi’s policy.

According to official sources, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had reached out to his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi and urged him to abstain during the UNHRC voting.

India’s move came as a major diplomatic setback to the US, particularly to President Trump. It is believed that India’s vote against the US carried forward New Delhi’s principled position on this issue.  On December 17, 14 out of 15 member states voted in favors of the draft resolution which condemns the US decision. However, Israel has rejected the move and called it ridiculous. Israel has rejected the “preposterous” vote at the UN General Assembly rather thanked the nations that supported Israel by not participating in and what Benjamin Netanyahu called  “the theatre of the absurd”. The resolution was vetoed by the United States later on. Outraged by the move, the US ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley threatened of the dire consequences. She even moved a step further and said that “billions of dollars of aid” will be suspended to those voted against the US.

According to figures from the US government’s aid agency USAID, in 2016 the United States provided some $13 billion in economic and military assistance to countries in sub-Saharan Africa and $1.6 billion to states in East Asia and Oceania. It provided some $13 billion to countries in the Middle East and North Africa, $6.7 billion to countries in South and Central Asia, $1.5 billion to states in Europe and Eurasia and $2.2 billion to Western Hemisphere countries, according to USAID(http://www.firstpost.com/world/india-with-128-nations-vote-at-un-against-donald-trumps-decision-to-recognise-jerusalem-as-israels-capital-4270569.html)

Indeed, for India to vote against President Trump’s declaration was a very tough decision for various reasons. For past few years, India – US relations have achieved new heights. They have got closer and are seen, indispensable partners. Also, since Trump resumed office in the Whitehouse, the US explicitly has sent signals to Pakistan to stop supporting terrorism inside and outside the country. This move, however, has been in favor of India.

Moreover, in August 2017, Donald Trump announced his much waited for new strategy to South Asia in which he categorically warned Pakistan that the US won’t tolerate Pakistan offering “safe heavens” to extremists. President Trump also reminded Pakistan that the US would suspend its military and financial aid to Pakistan if it doesn’t clamp down on extremists.

Additionally, the US under Trump recognizes India’s contribution in stabilizing economy and security in Afghanistan.  Washington acknowledged India as a major strategic and defense partner. “We will expand our defense & security cooperation with India, a Major defense Partner of the US”.

Thus, the vote was tough for India not just it has close relations with the US but because of its evolving partnership with Israel as well. Since 1992, India and Israel have persistent diplomatic ties.

Nevertheless, there was less focus on mutual areas of cooperation in agriculture, science and technology but with Narendra Modi in power, the relationship has become more vibrant especially in the areas of defense and strategy.  In addition, Prime Minister Modi’s visit to Israel in July 2017, strengthened the ties further. The visit was of strategic importance to Israel that Israeli newspapers wrote, “wake up: the most important PM of the world is coming.” This exhibits the seriousness of Israel towards India. Israel considers India as a friend and partner.

Foreign Policy magazine explained the said visit as a “diplomatic renaissance” and noted that “it is safe to conclude no government in New Delhi has ever been as enthusiastic about its affection for Israel as the one in power now.”

Therefore, it was difficult for India to vote against the US decision on Jerusalem. However, many foreign policy experts anticipated that India would abstain in the General Assembly vote. Their forecast was not based on the active relationship between India – Israel and the US but when the world nations condemned Trump’s decision on December 6, India neither denounced nor endorsed the move. Rather India’s response was half-hearted. The statement from the Foreign Affairs Ministry was that “India’s position on Palestine is independent and consistent. It is shaped by our views and interests and not determined by any third country.”

India abstained from the vote against Israel in the UN at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva in July 2015 and later in May 2017 in the UNESCO induced the policy experts to believe that this time also India would abstain from the vote. However, India voted in favor of the General Assembly resolution and deprecated its friend; the US and Israel. This act by India surprised many foreign policy experts.  India’s vote in favor of the General Assembly resolution reveals New Delhi’s Pragmatic and principled position in multilateral forums.  By doing so, India has reemphasized its autonomy in foreign policy decisions. However, Israel’s leading news portals described India’s shift in voting pattern as a sign of “warming ties” and an “unprecedented achievement for Israel.”

Significance & reason of India’s Vote against Israel at UN

Since its inception, India has adopted Nehruvian – era foreign policy principles of Third World Solidarity and non-violence and India has been a supporter of the Palestinian cause. Regardless of recognizing Israel in 1950, India only established diplomatic ties but it hasn’t been close to Israel owing to India’s strong links with Arab states and its large domestic Muslim population, nonetheless, India has maintained ties with Israel on the matters of security and defense and the ties has been kept hidden from the media glare with a reason very obvious.

Given that India is an emerging economy and is a powerful international actor, its foreign policy has shifted from normative posturing in favor of pragmatism and self-interest based action. Since the end of Cold War, India has seen a significant change in its position. It has shifted from the periphery to the center of the international system.

Furthermore, the Middle East is an important region for India’s diplomatic interests, energy and security. During the year 2016-2017, India’s trade with the Arab countries reached to $121 billion which accounts to 18. 25 per cent of India’s total trade, while trade with Israel is at $5 billion which only accounts for less than 1 per cent. Not only the trade, Arab states are the significant source of remittance, employment and energy for India. This could be a strong reason why India voted against Israel in UN at UNHRC.

In the past, India has been categorical of the Non-Aligned Movement’s (NAM) anti – Israel resolutions but its reiterated India’s support to the Palestinian cause. “There should be a sovereign, independent, united and viable Palestine, co-existing peacefully with Israel”. However, India omitted “with East Jerusalem as its capital”.

Abstaining from voting, India met with mixed reactions back home. Aditya Raj Kaul, Times Now senior journalist wrote, “In order to pacify the Arab nations, India voted against two of its closest allies…there is no logic in that”. Incensed with India vote against the US, many people in India expressed their anger on Twitter. The country’s pro-Israel gesture was greeted with approval not just in Jerusalem, but among rank-and-file Indians. Within an hour of the vote being announced, the hashtag #IndiaWithIsrael began trending on Twitter in India:

India abstained its vote in UNHRC against Israel
Proud Moment for every Indian
#IndiaWithIsrael

Besides home, Adnan Abu Alhaija, the Palestinian Ambassador to India said in an exclusive interview with The Hindu that India’s decision has been affected by its “burgeoning military relationship with Israel”. Alhaija termed India’s explanation of vote (EOV) “unconvincing”. He further said that India’s abstention stands out as a sore thumb and will send a confusing signal.

Indian Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson, Vikas Swarup said that there is no change in India’s long-standing position on support to the Palestinian cause. “India’s abstention was spurred by the resolution’s reference to the International Criminal Court (ICC), the international court of arbitration that was established by the 1998 Rome Statute.

If one goes by the news analysis carried out in Indian & Israeli newspapers, the reason was unconvinced that the vote was unrelated to the broader diplomatic situation between the two countries.  Critics believe that if MEA stood by its normal stance on resolutions calling for a referral to the ICC, it was the first time India refused to vote against Israel at the UN in some time. By and large, India’s UNHRC vote is being defined as a significant turning point in New Delhi’s policies toward Israel. India’s abstention is the latest sign of warming ties between Israel and India.  In October, India signed a $525 million arms deal with Israel. Thus, India is not doing any favor to Palestinian cause rather it has balanced the act. India has saved itself from the US ire, pleased Israel and offered lollypop to Palestine.

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