India's Diplomatic Evolution: Managing Israel-Palestine Amidst Challenges

India's stance on Israel and Palestine has seen dramatic shifts over the past seven decades. From being in complete support of the Palestinian cause to having close diplomatic ties with Israel. India's policy has been a balancing act.

Srajan Girdonia
New Update

Shockwaves as HAMAS Attacks Israel

As HAMAS, the militant group ruling the Gaza Strip, launched a bold and audacious attack on Israel, it has been dubbed one of the most significant attacks within Israel's territory since its establishment in 1948. In response, India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressed shock and conveyed solidarity with Israel. While the Ministry of External Affairs is yet to issue an official statement, the Prime Minister's remarks are perceived as aligning with Israel.

India's Historical Perspective

India's stance on Israel and Palestine has seen dramatic shifts over the past seven decades. Post-independence, leaders like Jawaharlal Nehru and Mahatma Gandhi pledged support for the Palestinian cause, rejecting the idea of religious exclusivity as a basis for nationhood. India's position was influenced by the Arab world, the Non-Aligned Movement, and the United Nations.

India consistently voted against Israel's admission to the UN and supported the Palestinian cause. However, it recognized Israel in 1950 after Turkey and Iran did so. While Israel opened a consulate in Mumbai in 1953, diplomatic ties were absent in New Delhi.

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, India deepened its engagement with the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), recognizing it as the sole representative of the Palestinian people in 1975. This support continued under leaders like Indira and Rajiv Gandhi.

Shifting Alliances 

Critics within India questioned its pro-Arab stance, especially after Arab countries remained neutral during the India-China war in 1962 and supported Pakistan in subsequent conflicts. In contrast, Israel provided arms and ammunition during India's wars in 1962 and 1965.

The landscape in West Asia changed when Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990. The PLO lost influence due to its support for Saddam Hussein, and the disintegration of the Soviet Union prompted India to rethink its West Asia policy.

Diplomatic Recognition of Israel

India established full diplomatic relations with Israel in January 1992, influenced by the end of the Cold War and the rise of the BJP in Indian politics.

Full diplomatic ties with Israel proved beneficial during the Kargil conflict in 1999, where Indian forces urgently needed precision target bombs. Israeli counterparts provided essential support. High-profile visits between the two nations followed, and the relationship continued to strengthen.

Modi Era and Dehyphenation

Under Prime Minister Modi, India-Israel relations gained prominence. During Modi's 2017 visit to Israel, he broke from the tradition of also visiting Palestine. However, India hosted Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in May 2017, reaffirming support for the Palestinian cause. Modi later visited Palestine in 2018, effectively dehyphenating India's ties with the two nations.

In the past decade, India's relations with Israel have deepened in security, defense, and connectivity, while India has also enhanced ties with West Asian nations such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Qatar, and Iran.

India's strategic approach to engage with all sides in the complex West Asian region is driven by the necessity of its substantial Diaspora, energy imports, and geopolitical interests. More than 50% of India's energy imports come from West Asia.

Current Diplomatic Challenges

The recent attacks in the region, including the audacious attack by HAMAS, have put India in a diplomatic quandary. These hostilities challenge the Abraham Accords and the prospects for rapprochement between Saudi Arabia and Israel, which held promise for reshaping age-old fault-lines in the Middle East. India had hoped to benefit from newfound peace in the region.

India's relationship with Israel and Palestine has been marked by significant shifts over the decades, driven by geopolitical, strategic, and ideological considerations. The recent attacks in the region underscore the complexities of India's diplomacy in the Middle East and its efforts to balance relationships with key players in the region.