By Rutvi Saxena
The United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) recently introduced a resolution to declare US’ recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital ‘null and void.’ The UNGA voted 128-9, with 35 abstentions and India was one of the 128 countries who voted in favour.
Debate over capitals
The UNGA also “demands that all states comply with Security Council resolutions regarding the holy city of Jerusalem and not to recognise any actions or measures contrary to those resolutions”.
Jerusalem has long been a bone of contention in the Israel-Palestine conflict, with both the regions claiming it to be their capital. Trump went against decades of US Policy by publicly recognising it as Israel’s capital and promising to move the American embassy there. It was recently forced to use its veto in the UNSC, where a similar resolution was proposed. “This vote will make a difference in how Americans look at the UN. And this vote will be remembered,” threatened US Ambassador Nikki Haley, which perhaps contributed to the 35 abstentions and 9 oppositions.
India’s vote: Recognising Palestine
India has historically been a supporter of the Palestinian cause and favoured a two-state solution. From 1947, India voted against the partition of Palestine in the UN to recognise the Palestine Liberation Organisation as a legitimate representative of Palestine and recognition of the state of Palestine in 1988. India has espoused the Palestinian cause and provided it with $60 million in budgetary support, according to the MEA. Bilateral trade between the two countries stands at $40 million.
Moreover, India has strategic relations with the Middle East nations and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). The Arab world meets most of India’s oil and gas needs and is a major trading partner. The value of UAE-India trade is expected to reach a staggering $100 billion by 2020. Also, India is one of the top three sources of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in the UAE. Furthermore, India exports nearly 20% of crude oil from Saudi Arabia, and Indians number the highest in the expat community in Saudi. The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) is a sub-organisation within the OIC comprising of six countries-Bahrain, Qatar, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and UAE. 70% of NRIs are housed by the GCC with an annual remittance of around $40 billion.
Keeping this in mind, India’s decision would seem pragmatic and in line with its principles. It might even contribute to counteracting China’s increasing influence in the Middle East. However, one cannot ignore the strong relations India has with both US and Israel. Donald Trump’s presidency has only served to strengthen India-US ties. The American president outlined in a South Asian strategy in August that he will “no longer be silent about Pakistan’s safe havens for terrorist organisations.” In the recently unveiled National Security Strategy, US welcomed “India’s emergence as a leading global power and stronger strategic and defence partner,” and that it will “help South Asian nations maintain their sovereignty as China increases its influence in the region”.
Implications of the vote
Similarly, India’s ties with Israel have deepened in the past few years, under Prime Ministership of Narendra Modi. Although diplomatic ties with Israel were only officially established in 1992, covert cooperation had been occurring throughout the preceding decades. Tel Aviv provided military assistance to India during its wars of 1962, 1965 and 1971, and was one of the first countries to recognise Bangladesh. In 2014 itself, India had purchased $662 million worth of Israeli arms. The upswing in diplomatic relations was evident in Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s statement that “the sky is the limit”. Perhaps what has been of most significance is Israel’s unequivocal commitment to India’s stance on Kashmir and refusal to support Pakistan under any circumstances. India has abstained on many UN resolutions against Israel, most notably in 2015. Foreign Policy Magazine summed up the friendship by saying “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.”
A wise choice or big mistake?
All these considerations contributed to the surprise, and even criticism, towards India’s vote in favour of the UNGA resolution. BJP MP Subramanian Swamy went on to say India has made a “huge mistake” since West Jerusalem is an uncontested territory of Israel and there is no harm to the US or India on having its embassy there. With Netanyahu scheduled to visit India next month, it is unclear whether India’s vote will be brought up. After Trump’s announcement on December 6, New Delhi had said 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.” It seems to have lived up to that statement, although the move could prove to be a setback to the diplomatic relations with the US if Nikki Haley’s words are anything to go by.
This was certainly a tough choice for India to make, and as of now, there has been no official response on its vote. While it seems to be a case of carefully prioritising and exercising independence when seen from one viewpoint, it can also be seen as a blunder and a “backstabbing” of longtime allies. Whether this was ultimately a wise decision will only come to light with time.
Featured Image Source: Pixabay
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