As Benyamin Netanyahu and Narendra Modi are cut from the same majoritarian-authoritarian cloth, it is hardly surprising that Modi has overturned decades of India’s Palestine policy to affirm total solidarity with Israel in the face of Hamas reviving the Palestinian resistance. And it has taken the ministry of external affairs nearly a week to restore a faint measure of balance by issuing an anodyne statement aimed at appeasing outraged Arab sentiment.
Our Palestine policy has been fundamentally founded on Mahatma Gandhi’s famous observation in 1938: “Palestine belongs to the Arabs as England belongs to the English and France to the French.” While Britain dilly-dallied over relinquishing its League of Nations mandate over Palestine, the Zionists, through a host of organisations—Haganah, Lehi, and above all, Irgun—introduced terrorism to Palestine, laying mines and sparking explosions; shooting dead numerous British policemen and army personnel; assassinating the UN mediator, Count Bernadotte; blowing up the King David hotel in Jerusalem, and mercilessly murdering countless Palestinians. How ironic that the Israelis now complain of Arab “terrorism”.
The principal plank of Zionist policy has been to drive out the Palestinians from their homesteads and relentlessly implement state discrimination against those who remain. Horrified at the treatment being meted out to the Palestinians, a leading Zionist philosopher, Martin Buber, as far back as 1950, condemned Israeli policies towards the Palestinians. To understand the import of Buber’s condemnation, readers need to be reminded that he was the Rabindranath Tagore of the Zionist movement and had been expressly sent to India in the late 1930s to persuade Mahatma Gandhiji to view the Zionist cause more favourably. Gandhi, however, stuck to his position that while indeed the Jews were an admirable people who had suffered centuries of persecution at Christian hands in Europe, Europe could not compensate them for their terrible misfortunes at Hitler’s hands by taking away from Arabs the land that indubitably belonged to the Palestinians. The Zionists retorted that there were no such people as the Palestinians and that, therefore, “a people without land were entitled to a land without people”. Thus did Zionism seek to efface millennia of existential Arab reality. No wonder the Palestinians refer to the creation of Israel as Al Nakba, the Catastrophe.
There can be no peace between Israel and Palestine without justice to the persecuted Palestinian people. There was a flicker of hope when the UN in 1967 adopted the “land for peace” resolution that envisaged a “two-state” solution—Israel and a Palestine state living next to each other in harmony. But Israel has consistently refused to countenance a sovereign state for the poor Palestinians. It never even sincerely implemented the Oslo Accord with Yasser Arafat, or the White House Rose Garden understanding brokered in 1993 by US President Bill Clinton. Indeed, Israel, particularly under Netanyahu, has gone further and created heavily fortified (and illegal) Jewish settlements in the West Bank. The resistance has, therefore, shifted to the Gaza Strip where Hamas has secured total dominance and continues to defy Israel in sharp contrast to the bullied and cowed down Palestinian Authority based in Ramallah in the West Bank.
India took all this into account in determining its Palestine policy. Now, Modi has upset the apple cart, leaving a bewildered MEA to somehow pick up the pieces. Perhaps they should first begin by getting our leading West Asia expert, Talmiz Ahmed, ex-IFS, to tutor our prime minister in the rudiments of the region’s history in, perhaps, the vain hope that it will kindle a little compassion in Modi’s stony heart.
Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.