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Recently, the UN Middle East envoy warns the tensions between Israel and Palestine could escalate to ‘full-scale war.’ People on both sides of the borders either Israeli or Palestinian are killed in these escalations. Violence in any form and anywhere is unfortunate and painful. According to Business Standard, “So far 122 Palestinians, including 31 children, have been killed and more than 900 wounded, and seven Israelis, including one child, have died in the fighting” in the Israel-Palestine conflict. This escalation will worsen humanitarian conditions in Gaza further amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The health sector in Gaza is already struggling against the Pandemic.
Context of new conflict
Israeli troops stormed the Al Aqsa mosque on May 10 to celebrate Jerusalem Day. There were clashes between Israeli police and Palestinians in the capital of Israel, Jerusalem. This crisis escalated quickly after the verdict of the Israeli Supreme Court which upholds the eviction of Palestinian families situated at Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem. The Palestinian militant group started launching hundreds of rockets from Gaza. Hamas, an internationally deemed terrorist organization by major countries, which is currently controlling the Gaza strip launched 130 missiles at Tel Aviv and its surroundings.
Followed by this Israel started retaliating with airstrikes. Hamas attacked Israel with more than 1000 missiles in the last two days. It’s the ‘Iron dome structure’ system and the low population density of Israel (398 people per square km) compared to Gaza ( 5,046 people per square km) that protected Israel from heavy losses. It has become the most dangerous escalation on Gaza since 2014. Hamas largely stayed away from directly provoking Israel in the last seven years. It has put pressure on Hamas from the smaller Islamist militant groups about the resistance movement.
Hamas has been in charge of Gaza since 2007. Due to passiveness, it has faced challenges from within the group. There is a political conflict within the Palestinian organizations. Stanly Johny, an expert on West Asia, claims that the struggle between Palestinian Authority which rules West Bank, and Hamas which rules the Gaza strip have never been settled. Both are still fighting over corruption, incompetency, and election issues. In April 2021, When the chief of the Palestinian Authority, Abbas announced to delay the election indefinitely, Hamas leaders call this decision a “coup”.
A struggle for leadership of the Islamic world
Islamic “Ummah” is a utopian word similar to “Commune” of communist ideology. In reality, such things won’t exist in geopolitics. Arab countries are revamping their relation with Israel. The Abraham Accords, a joint statement between Israel, the United Arab Emirates, and the United States is merely an example of it which is in the public domain. It is also said that back-channel diplomacy still exists between Israel and the Arab world. OIC (Organization of Islamic Cooperation) and the Arab world have seen the capability of Israel in 6 days war. They prefer to compromise instead of getting into conflict with Israel.
Equations in the middle east are changing. After the Israel-UAE peace deal, the division within the Islamic world has become clear now. Kashmir and Palestine are merely excuses. Actually, every stakeholder has its own interests: (1) Turkey: It wants to replace Saudi Arabia and become the leader of the Islamic world. The narrative of Turkey to lead the Islamic world is the revival of the Ottoman empire. (2) China: It wants to build a leadership parallel to Saudi Arabia to reduce the influence of the US in the middle east. China is currently in the motion to challenge the US hegemon.
(3) Pakistan: It didn’t get any support from the Muslim world against India’s development in Kashmir after August 5, 2019. But Pakistan doesn’t lag behind to show its superiority because of nuclear power. Pakistan also doesn’t want any other Islamic country to be a nuclear power because it is all that Pakistan has, to bargain in the Muslim world. (4) Iran: It is trying to get benefits against its historical and religious rival Saudi Arabia. Shia-Sunni divide between Saudi and Iran is not new. Iran wants to project the Shia way of life as superior over Sunni. (5) Malaysia: Mahathir Mohammed, at the age of 95, also desires an active personality in Islamic leadership.
West Asia Plan 2020: A planned Injustice by Israel and the US
West Asia plan, authored by a team led by Trump’s son-in-law and senior advisor Jared Kushner, was a planned political injustice against Palestine. It was constructed during the last days of Trump. It was largely favoring Israel. First, Jerusalem was a matter of dispute between Israel and Palestine since the beginning. It’s the US government under Trump’s leadership who shifted its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem on December 6, 2017. President Trump formally recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. West Asia plan also deemed undivided Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
Second, the West Asia plan also tried to revive the stalled two-state talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians. It proposed an independent Palestinian state and the recognition of Israeli sovereignty over West Bank settlements. According to the plan, Israel would be allowed to annex the Jewish settlements on the West Bank as well as the Jordan Valley. Third, It also proposed some land swap for the Israeli annexation of the West Bank Jewish settlements. It sought to enlarge Gaza and connect the strip with the West Bank through a tunnel.
Fourth, the US has also proposed $50 billion in investment over 10 years in Palestine. Fifth, As per the plan, the Palestinian Authority (PA) that is ruling West Bank must take back its cases from the international criminal court (ICC) against Israel and take action on Hamas. Sixth, During the four-year period of negotiations, Israel would freeze further settlements in these areas. Even if this deal was favoring Israel, Israel violated the terms and decided to annex the west bank on July 1, 2020.
It put humiliating conditions on Palestinian people. First, Palestine was appealed to give up the claim from Jerusalem which is religiously important to the people of Palestine due to the Al-Aqsa Mosque. Second, Control over the fertile land due to the Jordan River and the availability of water in the West Bank was given to Israel. Third, It didn’t talk about the return of Palestinian refugees, who were forced out from their homes during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war that followed the declaration of the state of Israel in historic Palestine. Fourth, It doesn’t only talk about the withdrawal of cases but also about taking action against Hamas.
Increasing India-Israel proximity
Pundit Nehru, a leader who believed in world government, reversed his own principle by opposing the UN’s partition plan in the context of Israel-Palestine. For pundit Nehru, to make NAM successful a good and stable India’s relation with the Arab was needed. When Israel came to help India during the war against Pakistan in 1971, the Indian PM asked for help without the Israeli flag on the ship. Till 1992, India refrained from diplomatic relations with Israel. In 1992, during the Narasimha Rao govt, India upgrades its relationship to a full diplomatic level.
Currently, Israel has become an important ally for India. First, Israel supports India on the Kashmir issue. In 2017, Israel has expressed – “Israel will never support Pakistan on Kashmir Issue in any circumstances.” Palestine has never supported India on Kashmir. Instead, Walid Abu Ali, a Palestinian ambassador, shared the stage at a rally in Rawalpindi with LeT chief and 26/11 mastermind Hafiz Saeed in 2017. Second, Israel has been time tested ally of India who has supported and provided assistance to India in wars against Pakistan and China, Even during sanctions by the US due to a Nuclear test in Pokharan, Israel supported India.
Third, Israel is India’s 3rd largest defense supplier. Israeli bomb spice 2000 was used at Balacot. In the defense sector, Israel is working with a Joint venture under make in India program. Fourth, Israel has been working in water-stressed areas like Bundelkhand. Fifth, India and Israel are collaborating in the agriculture sector. India is benefitting from efficient agricultural techniques using Israeli technological expertise. That’s why Pranab Mukherjee rightly said in 2015 that has crucially come through for India at times “when India needed them the most”
India-Israel proximity benefits Palestine too
Growing proximity between India and Israel also benefits Palestine. First, To balance the growing closeness between India and Israel, India has increased engagement with Palestine. Second, India has consistently urged Israel to engage in negotiations with the Palestinians to resolve outstanding issues. Third, India also extends consistent support to the goal of the creation of a Palestinian state, in bilateral interactions with key interlocutors like Saudi Arabia and at multilateral forums like UNGA, BRICS, and NAM.
Fourth, In spite of knowing the fact that, unlike Israel, Palestine doesn’t support India on the Kashmir issue, India has increased its contribution to the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) increased to $5 million in March 2018, from $1.25 million earlier. Fifth, India is setting up the Institute of Diplomacy in Surda, Ramallah at a cost of $4.5 million, and the Palestine India Techno-Park in Ramallah, its largest project at $12 million. Thus, India knows how to balance diplomatic relationships. Sixth, To balance India-Israel proximity India India voted against the US West Asia plan in 2020.
NO country in the world is a girlfriend of any country so that one would get unconditional love and support. Palestine is getting support from India because it has helped India in maintaining good relations in West Asia. India has utilized the potential of Israel without creating unnecessary rivalries in West Asia. For example, for the first time, Saudi Arabia had opened airspace for India to travel to Israel. India has been able to balance its relation in one of the most complex regions of the world. That’s why Kundan (New Delhi) is still running for Zoya even if Bindya loves him.
I understand that for India, Israel, as well as Palestine both, are important. In asymmetric warfare, State is always ahead of the non-state actor. Israel is powerless without the US backing. The US provides power to bite. In the US, only elites are circulated after every election. Either democrats or the republican both behave in the same fashion for the world. The problem with Palestine is that the Gaza strip is currently governed by a non-state actor, Hamas. It legitimizes all the actions of Israel in the eyes of the world. Bloodbaths amid pandemic is another layer of humiliation for the people. Both sides ultimately people are at the receiving end.
India has no need to support either Israel or Palestine exclusively in spite of knowing the fact that Israel was seen at the forefront to support India. I am sure the government of India will not commit the same mistake for which Pundit Nehru was criticized as “more Arab than Arabs.” Palestine is important for India to have a good relationship with the middle east. Similarly, Israel is important to enjoy the Jewish clout in Washington as well as technical support in various developmental and strategic areas in India.
- UN News | Tensions could escalate to ‘full-scale war’, UN Middle East envoy warns
- The Wall Street Journal | What’s Behind the Escalating Israeli and Palestinian Conflict?
- Decoding Dream India | History of the Jerusalems and full of disputes
- The Hindu | What is happening in Jerusalem?
- The Hindu | Trump unveils West Asia plan, Palestinians protest
- MEA | President Pranab Mukherjee visit to Israel
- Reuters | Indian airliner makes history by flying to Israel via Saudi airspace