India’s muscular diplomacy, an attribute of the present government, has run into heavy weather. Body blows from multiple sources – a spat with Canada, the Maldives’ triumphalism about evicting Indian servicemen, China-Bhutan normalisation, etc – testify to it. On top of it comes the latest diplomatic faux pas at the UN General Assembly over Gaza and not entirely unrelated shock and awe dealt out by Qatar last week. Doha has handed down death sentences to eight Indian ex-naval officers on charges of spying for Israel.
Whichever way one looks at the Explanation of Vote (EoV) on the UNGA resolution on Thursday on Gaza, India’s abstention was a mistake. Our diplomacy has become entrapped in our solidarity with Israel.
The topmost consideration for India at the UNGA debate should have been that the draft was tabled by the Arab and Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) countries with whom India has fraternal ties, and, second, it called for an “immediate, durable and sustained humanitarian truce” in Gaza, which is an urgent necessity.
Yet, France outclassed us, exposing the need for more creative UN diplomacy on our part. France not only sought that some reference to Hamas’ raid into Israel on October 7 be made in the draft but on a recent visit to Tel Aviv, President Emmanuel Macron even proposed an alliance of like-minded countries to take on Hamas militarily.
Yet, when it came to the crunch, France ultimately voted for the Arab resolution and issued an EoV justifying it. As France saw it, the imperative need today is to stop the fighting and the compelling reality is the importance of being on the right side of history on the Middle East crisis, where it has high stakes. In the final analysis, what stands out for the record is the actual voting, not the EoV.
It was apparent that the Canadian amendment – at Israel’s behest and sponsored by Washington – was a clumsy attempt to divide the votes by calling for “unequivocally rejecting and condemning the terrorist attacks by Hamas.” In a notable speech that drew wide acclaim, Pakistan’s ambassador to the UN Munir Akram highlighted the contradiction.
If Canada was being fair in its amendment, he said, it should also agree to name Israel as well as Hamas. “We all know who started this. It is 50 years of Israeli occupation and the killing of Palestinians with impunity,” Akram argued, therefore, not naming either side was the best choice.
It appears that India was taken aback by Akram’s intervention at the UNGA during Agenda Item 70, Right to Self-Determination, where he forcefully linked the Palestine issue and the Kashmir problem. Alas, India’s abstention has only left the centre stage for Pakistan to occupy. This could be consequential. A prudent course would have been to identify with the stance of the Arab countries unequivocally, since this is a core issue for them and it is playing out in their region.
India should have factored in that feelings are running high in the West Asian region and the US-Israeli propaganda that the Arab world paid only lip service to the Palestinian cause doesn’t hold good. There is unmistakable anger and anguish among the regional states and a groundswell of opinion has appeared demanding a settlement of the Palestine issue for stability.
The tectonic plates of regional politics have shifted following the Saudi-Iranian rapprochement under China’s mediation, which in turn triggered new thinking in West Asia giving impetus to a focus on development. Equally, the regional states prefer to address their issues increasingly on their own steam, without external interference. China and Russia understand this but the US refuses to see the writing on the wall.
Therefore, it will prove to be damaging to our interests if a growing perception crystallises that Indians are carpetbaggers. Indo-Israeli fusion through the past decade hasn’t gone unnoticed in the Muslim countries. They resent it, perhaps, but it may not surge into view because Arabs are a hospitable people. That said, their resentment may surface if push comes to shove and their core interests are involved.
The US-Israeli attempt to put the lid on the region’s growing strategic autonomy is one such core issue. It is far from the case that the regional states — be it Qatar, Iran, Egypt, Syria or even Turkey — do not understand that the Biden administration’s grandiloquent idea of a India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor is in reality a wedge to disrupt nascent trends of unity among regional states, so as to insert Israel into regional processes and rekindle the flame of sectarian schism and geopolitical rifts, which the US historically exploited to impose its hegemony in West Asia.
That is why the three-way Qatar-India-Israel tangled mess of espionage, which should never have been allowed to happen, becomes a litmus test of mutual intentions in the geopolitics of the region. Lest it is forgotten, Qatar and Israel had collaborated, since the mid-Nineties, to prop up Hamas as an Islamist antidote to the secular-minded PLO under Yasser Arafat.
In a recent interview with Deutsche Welle, former Israeli PM Ehud Olmert disclosed, “We know that Hamas was financed with the assistance of Israel — for years — by hundreds of millions of dollars that came from Qatar with the assistance of the state of Israel, with the full knowledge and support of the Israeli government led by Netanyahu.”
That convergence — rather, Faustian deal — ended in 2009 following the three-week Gaza Massacre by Israel, whereupon Doha drew closer to Tehran. Nonetheless, a pragmatic relationship continued, and in 2015, the Qatari government facilitated discussions between Israel and Hamas in Doha in search of a possible five-year ceasefire between the two parties. Suffice it to say that Indian diplomacy is swimming in shark-infested waters. The news from Doha this week is a wake-up call.
Equally, our public discourse on Hamas as a terrorist organisation and our branding of that national liberation movement is surreal, to say the least. Although it may be difficult today for the government to openly deal with Hamas, it shouldn’t be that we lack a proper understanding of Islamism. If ever a Palestine settlement comes to fruition, Hamas, as the fountainhead of resistance, will have a lead role in it. India’s political elite must bear in mind this reality.
Eliminating Hamas from the political landscape is no longer possible, given the massive grassroots support it enjoys among the Palestinian people, which is of course a proven fact in the successive elections held in Gaza and the West Bank.
Note: This article has been excerpted with permission from Indianpunchline.com.
M.K. Bhadrakumar is a retired diplomat.