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India-Israel relations and Middle East – Dynamism and Realism

  • Category
    India & world
  • Published
    25th Jun, 2019
  • A June 6, 2019 vote in the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) on a decision introduced by Israel that objected to granting a Palestinian NGO named Shahed (‘Witness’) a consultative status at the ECOSOC, attracted widespread attention.
  • India voted in favor of the decision proposed by Israel to deny the observer status to Shahed.

Issue

Context:

  • A June 6, 2019 vote in the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) on a decision introduced by Israel that objected to granting a Palestinian NGO named Shahed (‘Witness’) a consultative status at the ECOSOC, attracted widespread attention.
  • India voted in favor of the decision proposed by Israel to deny the observer status to Shahed.
  • Many in the diplomatic circles considered this move unprecedented, “rare”, and that this vote could be the first sign of a gradual dilution of India’s “decades-old position on the two-state theory”.

About:                                                                         

This vote should be interpreted as important signaling from the part of Indian diplomacy. India had abstained at ECOSOC vote in 2015 on authorizing the application of another Palestinian NGO for consultative status.

One needs to look at the broader historical and institutional context of this recent decision to assess its long-term significance for India’s ties with Israel and Palestine.

Over the last five years, India had already broken with its previous systematic voting stance on issues connected to Israel-Palestine by already abstaining on votes against Israel at the UNGA, UNHRC and at the UNESCO.

But the shift is not un-principled. The fact that, amid all the regional tensions, Indian migrants in the GCC countries alone generated remittances worth $40 billion in 2018 highlights the need for India to stabilize its interests in the region.

India supported a UNGA vote against Donald Trump’s unilateral declaration of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, judging that this decision went against international law and past UN Security Council resolutions.

Background:

Two-state solution:

  • The “two-state solution” would create an independent Israel and Palestine, and is the mainstream approach to resolving the conflict.
  • The idea is that Israelis and Palestinians want to run their countries differently; Israelis want a Jewish state, and Palestinians want a Palestinian one.
  • The geopolitical dynamics of the Middle East have been changing in an unprecedented manner over the past few years.
  • The present article tries to examine India’s initiatives in the region in the context of the emerging regional geo-strategic landscape.

Analysis

  • One needs to understand India’s West Asia policy as a careful and constant balancing exercise rather than to discern possible tilts and realignments with specific countries or blocs in the region.
  • Given the web of strategic linkages crisscrossing Eurasia, several regional and major powers have sought to increase their presence and influence in the region.
  • Although their level of engagement has varied over the years yet their power rivalry and competition assume even greater significance due to Russia’s ongoing confrontation with the ‘West’.
  • As in the case of India’s careful balancing exercise in the dispute between the GCC and Iran, one should expect India to maintain a flexible position and to refrain from rigid rhetorical and policy commitments.
  • The situation in West Asia is currently in flux and that India has been one of the rare extra-regional actors to have cultivated substantial ties with most relevant actors in the region.
  • West Asia has been a sensitive and conflict prone region, especially since the early 20th century with the discovery of oil. It was also an enduring space for conflict during the Cold War. More recently, the phenomenon of the “Arab Spring” added another dimension to the existing geopolitical challenges in the region.
  • The relationship between the two crucial regional players—Saudi Arabia and Iran—has worsened, making the situation even more complex. There have been allegations of Saudi-Iran proxy wars taking place in Syria, Iraq and Yemen.
  • The increasing Iranian activism in the region and its rising capability, along with rapprochement with the West, has alarmed the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states thus inhibiting the chances of any dialogue between the two sides. Intra GCC tensions have also surfaced in recent times.
  • The escalation of conflict in West Asia has created anxiety among major oil importers in Asia, particularly India, China, Japan and South Korea.
  • These Asian economic giants are heavily dependent upon the energy supplies from the Gulf region.
  • There has been a concern among the Asian oil importers over the possibility of disruption in production and supplies of oil and gas in the face of growing unrest in the region.

India's interests are intertwined with the region:

  • India has huge political, economic and security interests in the region. India’s bilateral trade with the region is around US$ 172 billion.
  • Not only is it heavily dependent on the region for energy supplies, there are over seven million Indian nationals living and working in the region.
  • Their safety is a concern for India. The rise of terrorism and extremism in the region, particularly the ISIS, is also a security challenge for India.
  • Thus, India is naturally concerned about the developments in the region which she refers to as her ‘extended neighborhood’.

West Asian Turmoil and Implications for India

  • With the issue of climate change becoming an important factor in the energy policies of several countries, the demand for oil from many of the developed countries began tapering off, being replaced by gas, which is a cleaner fuel.
  • By the mid-2000s, demand for gas was seen as the fastest growing of the fossil fuels in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries, with Japan being the largest consumer of gas among the Asian countries.
  • As a result, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states who had been unwilling to pay Qatar its asking price for gas, led Doha to seek export markets beyond the region, where it secured much higher prices on long-term bilateral contracts.

Foreign 'balancing' policy

  • India has sought to translate its engagement with the world to promote its internal development, and in turn pin this growth to strengthen its position in the international system.
  • The four mainstays of Civilizational ethos shaping India’s strategic intent - realism, co-existence, cooperation and partnership – highlight a more nuanced Indian approach.
  • The emphasis on realism indicates the nuanced shift in ideology from non-alignment of the past, while retaining its core values.
  • Similarly, coexistence and cooperation with neighbors highlight the compelling logic of geography to build a stable neighborhood for creating an environment of building stronger trade and economic linkages.
  • This implies achieving peace and sustainable development in the region inflicted with instability and security challenges through building economic inter-dependence.

The underpinning strategy and way forward:

  • One of the most important pillars for India’s great power aspiration is widened strategic influence.
  • New Delhi has to increase the bandwidth of its foreign policy and find more areas of mutual interest and strategic convergence in the Middle East without disrupting the balanceit has created in the region in terms of both bilateral and multilateral engagements.
  • So far India has been engaging with Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Israel simultaneously without making any political comments that could affect any bilateral engagements.
  • Maintaining a close relationship with the Sunni monarchs of the Arab world without disrupting the relationship with Iran, and refraining from getting politically involved in any conflict in the region, could be seen as continuity in terms of India’s engagement with the Middle East.
  • However, there have also been major changes in the form of deepening strategic partnerships and accelerated economic and trade ties with the UAE and Saudi Arabia in recent years.
  • The much hackneyed “balancing” policy of New Delhi in the region has so far made sure that India sets its priorities to ensure energy security and accelerate economic ties in the region.
  • Nevertheless, the sectarian-based conflicts and the proxy wars that constantly weaken the Middle East’s security and stability make it extremely complex for India to stabilize its interests in the region, much less venture into new domains of engagements.

Learning Aid

Practice Question:

Recently, at UN Economic and Social Council India voted in favor of the decision proposed by Israel to deny the observer status to Shahed, a Palestine based NGO. Keeping India-Israel relations in mind, analyse the balancing policy of New Delhi in the West Asia region.

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