ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846
-A A +A

A Strategy of Tokenism

Modi’s Palestine visit does not lessen the mutual ardour between India and Israel.

The term in diplomatic circles is “de-hyphenation.” In plainer terms it means casting away the fig leaf of principle and embracing the culture of a violent, endless colonialism.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent visit to occupied Palestine was part of a wider tour of the region. It may have been a way of restoring a balance gone askew since his visit to Israel last July, reciprocated by his Israeli counterpart in January. Neither involved the token genuflection towards the Palestinian cause that has been customary in earlier episodes of India’s growing intimacy with Israel.

A meaningless ritual can be discarded without anybody noticing. Foreign policy establishments though, have their own institutional momentum and Modi’s visit to the Palestinian territories was perhaps an effort to restore older verities before they are perceived as irreparably damaged. This also serves as a hedge against potentially disruptive events in a highly volatile region.

It is a safe bet that Modi’s visit to Palestine does not point towards any lessening of the mutual ardour between India and Israel. That much is evident from the rather laboured rationalisation given by a former Indian Foreign Secretary Kanwal Sibal, now with a right-wing think tank that has been a rich source of recruits into the Modi administration. “With Israel maintaining a hard posture on Palestinian demands and India favouring a political solution based on United Nations (UN) resolutions and other peace-making processes between Israel and Palestine, we have the challenge of balancing these two realities,” Sibal states. “In this regard, we have done well to de-hyphenate the two relationships.”

In other words, since Israel has made evident its complete disinterest in anything like a just peace, India might as well get used to the situation. The relationship with Israel will continue to grow, subsidising the military–industrial complex in the Zionist state and enabling it to stretch out its brutal occupation.

Hyphenation was never a morally sound strategy, but it at least maintained the pretext that India intended holding Israel to promises of good faith in peace negotiations. Prior to establishing full diplomatic relations with Israel in 1992, India played host to the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, seemingly to secure an assurance that the peace process was on track towards a fair outcome. There was little to show for the peace process at the time and the diplomatic opening was a step taken in the extravagance of hope rather than realistic expectation.

There was a political interest served. The Soviet Union, India’s most significant strategic partner and its principal supplier of energy and weaponry, had passed into history. Israel seemed part of the package that India had to take on board to ensure that its overtures to the West, then just incipient, were fully productive. But after the first public admission of the secret ardour, India went back to being a reticent diplomatic partner. The only high-level exchange that occurred through the 1990s was a foreign ministerial visit by the dreamy-eyed Shimon Peres, who still had some credibility as the simulacrum of a peace process began to be assembled in 1993.

By the time it came to planning a prime ministerial visit in 2003, Israel had already put an end to all pretences. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon had run a bloody rampage through the West Bank under Operation Defensive Shield, with a massacre in Jenin entering a catalogue of atrocities already overflowing with his accomplishments.

With Yasser Arafat then under siege as the Israeli military ringed his compound in the city of Ramallah, there was little opportunity for the token visit by a Palestinian dignitary to provide fake balance. That ritual was restored in 2015, when with Jordan as springboard, India’s President Pranab Mukherjee arrived in an occupied Palestine seething with unrest. The President’s meetings with the beleaguered political leadership of the Palestinian National Authority were given precedence over engagements in Israel. This was part of the careful choreography of India’s balancing act between symbolic support for Palestine and deepening strategic engagement with Israel.

As then, Israel is unlikely to take Modi’s visit to Palestine amiss or pay it any special heed. When asked on his recent visit if India’s UN vote against the United States’ (US) recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital meant anything, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu waved it away with absolute nonchalance. Israel is comfortable with the broader direction in which the relationship with India is evolving and will have no reason to feel aggrieved over a visit to Palestine that is mostly symbolic.

India fits perfectly well into Israel’s strategy to deal with a situation arising from a souring of its relationship with Europe. Netanyahu has dealt with growing European exasperation in recent times with moral lectures on the historic culpability for anti-Semitism and rude reminders that Israel has other more fruitful places to go for strategic and economic partnerships.

India seems to have backed itself into a situation where it has no option but to acquiesce in the brutal Israeli endgame to demolish Palestinian resistance. The Palestinians have spurned the US as a mediator, but with the continuing chaos in Syria and the wider region, there is also an expectation that the global focus will not return to Palestine for several years. That may afford India the leeway to extract all it wants from the dalliance with Israel, regardless of the corrosive impact it could have on solidarity within and credibility outside.

Updated On : 23rd Feb, 2018


(-) Hide

EPW looks forward to your comments. Please note that comments are moderated as per our comments policy. They may take some time to appear. A comment, if suitable, may be selected for publication in the Letters pages of EPW.

Back to Top