INDIA BALANCES PALESTINE SUPPORT, ISRAEL DEFENSE TIES

Photo: Anadolu Agency
Photo: Anadolu Agency

Al Quds, 1 Muharram 1437/14 October 2015 (MINA) – The first Palestinian Liberation Organization office in New Delhi opened in 1975. It was almost 20 years later, in 1993, when Israel was first able to open an embassy in the Indian capital.

Since its independence in 1947, support for Palestine was a cornerstone of Indian foreign policy, but as President Pranab Mukherjee visited Palestine on Monday, ahead of a longer trip to Israel, some say India may be changing course,  Anadolu Agency quoted by Mi’raj Islamic News Agency (MINA) as reporting.

“I think the visit is to Israel, this is just a token visit [to Palestine]. As has been the case for a while now with India, the Palestinian cause is just [given] lip service,” Seema Mustafa, an Indian journalist who has reported on Palestine since the 1980s, told Anadolu Agency.

“It’s a tragedy because when India became a free country and decided to follow a certain foreign policy, it was based on supporting all the struggles of the world,” she said, adding that now “[India has adopted] what they called ‘pragmatic foreign policy’, in which they pursued relations with those countries who could improve the economics of India.”

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Mustafa said this has translated into a growing relationship with Israel, marked by Mukherjee becoming the first Indian state leader to ever visit the country.

Trade between the two countries has grown from $200 million when they established full relations in 1992 to more than $5 billion by 2013, according to the head of foreign trade in Israel’s economy ministry, Ohad Cohen, writing in the Times of Israel earlier this year.

He added that Indian businesses have invested millions of dollars into Israeli companies and the two countries have jointly set up a $40 million fund for technological development.

Mustafa highlighted that India has also become the largest buyer of Israeli military equipment, spending, according to the Federation of Indian Chambers and Commerce, an estimated $10 billion on Israeli equipment over the past decade.

India has bought Israeli surveillance systems used on the border with arch-rival Pakistan and is reportedly buying Israeli armed drones. It has also jointly-developed missiles systems with Israel — a model it is keen to pursue for future defense deals.

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Israel also helped India with surveillance operations and provided artillery during a war with Pakistan in 1999. India, on the other hand, has long stepped back from actively pushing for pro-Palestinian resolutions in the UN.

The Indian president tried to allay Palestinian fears during a visit to Jordan on Sunday, insisting that “India’s traditional support to the Palestinian cause remains steadfast and unwavering.”

He also quoted Mahatma Gandhi, to add: “Palestine belongs to the Arabs in the same sense that England belongs to the English.”

The Palestinian administration was upset last year when India abstained from a U.N. vote to condemn Israel’s operation in Gaza, which killed more than 2,200 people, marking the first time India did not back Palestine in the UN.

This time however, Palestinian Ambassador to India Adnan Abu Alhaija said he believed Mukherjee’s visit to Palestine meant that India still supported the Palestinian cause.

“India’s ties with Israel so far had no adverse impact on India’s longstanding friendship with Palestine. We do not have any reason to have any iota of doubt over India’s continuing support to our struggle for an independent Palestine,” Alhaija told Indian newspaper the Economic Times on Friday.

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Palestinian political analyst Mahdi Abdul Hadi said it was not clear whether India would abandon its historical stance, which he said was based on an “ethical position” and its leading role in the Non-Aligned Movement during the Cold War, when it avoided siding with major superpowers.

“There is now the strength of the India-Israel security relations. This particular angle, this component will be reflected in the rest of the Indian’s president’s visit. What kind of speech will he give to the Israeli Knesset?” said Abdul Hadi.

Referring to increasing protests by Palestinian youth against Israel, he added: “The timing is crucial. He [Mukherjee] could bring a message of ethics, or will he come looking for weapons and cooperation, and support the apartheid system?” (T/P010/R03)

Mi’raj Islamic News Agency (MINA)