Moving from rejection of Israel, India makes two states its canon of diplomacy

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New York, December 2 (IANS) In its slow march towards realpolitik, India has come a long way from looking at Palestine through the prism of its independence struggle and the trauma of partition and rejecting Israel to supporting the two-state solution of sovereign Israel and Palestine nations living as neighbours.

In the latest iteration. Prime Minister Narendra Modi “emphasised India’s support for a two-state solution” – a policy of India for decades – when he met Israel’s President Isaac Herzog at the Climate Summit in Dubai on Friday, the Union External Affairs Ministry said.

That demonstrated the mantra of a two-state solution that has been invoked over and over again in Indian leader’s and diplomats’ speeches and statements for decades is alive and well.

India had initially refused to countenance the formation of Israel and voted against the original two-state proposal, the UN General Assembly resolution in November 1947 for the partitioning of Palestine into independent Arab and Jewish states (with an international setup for Jerusalem, the city sacred to the three Abrahamic religions).

The reality of Israel, when even Muslim majority nations Iran and Turkey recognised it, forced India to overcome its Nehruvian reservations and recognise the nation in 1950, thus nominally accepting the concept of a two-state solution to the Palestine problem.

Giving a firm foundation for its support for a two-nation solution, New Delhi also recognised the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) as the sole representative of the Palestine people in 1974 and the Palestine State in 1988.

This followed the slow evolution of the Palestinian cause leading to the emergence of the PLO under its charismatic chairman as the internationally recognised voice of the Palestinians.

Now both Israel and Palestine had diplomatic footings in India, although it was only in 1992 under Prime Minister Narasimha Rao that India gave Israel full diplomatic status after having allowed a consulate in Mumbai since 1953.

Looking back, India’s initial opposition to Israel flowed from the pre-Independence Congress Party’s expressions of solidarity with the Arab cause in Palestine struggling against British rule and Mahatma Gandhi’s and Jawaharlal Nehru’s opposition to the creation of a Jewish homeland in Palestine.

A 1937 Congress Party resolution had opposed the proposal by a British Royal Commission for the creation of Israel by partitioning the Palestine territory that Britain came to control under a League of Nations mandate after the defeat of its ruler Turkey in World War I.

The Congress Party was guided by Gandhi, who had written that “Palestine belongs to the Arabs in the same sense that England belongs to the English, or France to the French” and the Jewish people “can settle in Palestine only by the goodwill of the Arabs” and not under "the shadow of the British gun”.

And, Nehru had taken the position that “Palestine is essentially an Arab country” and “the two peoples could well cooperate together in a free Palestine, without encroaching on each other’s legitimate interests”.

But after the UN resolution partitioning Palestine and Israel declaring independence in May 1948, a war broke out with the Arab nations in which Israel prevailed taking more territory than had been set aside for it in the UN resolution.

And, during the 1967 war, Israel captured the Gaza Strip from Egypt and the West Bank from Jordan.

A 1967 Security Council resolution known as the “Land for Peace” resolution formed the basis for a revived two-state concept.

Under the 1969 peace treaty with Egypt that followed, Israel withdrew from the Sinai Peninsula and Egypt dropped claims to Gaza, which had been captured by Israel in the war fought soon after its independence, so that the PLO can have it.

Subsequently, Jordan also gave up its claims on the territory on the West Bank of the Jordan River adding to the Palestinian territory.

The next big step came in the early 1990s following negotiations between Arafat and the Israeli government of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.

The Oslo Accords that emerged from the negotiations between 1993 and 1996 led to Israel and the PLO recognising each other and agreed to the creation of the Palestine National Authority as the de facto government of Gaza and the West Bank -- creating in theory what could eventually become the sovereign Palestine nation.

Meanwhile, India’s overwhelming support for Palestine as the vociferous role as a leader of the nonaligned movement under Nehru and later his daughter Prime Minister Indira Gandhi overshadowed the relations with Israel, even though that country had helped India during the 1962 war with China, the 1965 war with Pakistan and the 1971 Bangladesh War.

In public, Israel hardly merited attention for India -- except as a target of criticism.

But as New Delhi's foreign policy evolved, Rao establishing full diplomatic ties with Israel brought better symmetry to India’s relations with both Israel and the Palestine Authority in time for the Oslo Accords that gave a firm form to what could be the two-state solution.

India joined the international calls for the two-state solution for the Palestine problem which is now entrenched in India’s diplomatic canons even if the idea seems far away.