Thursday, March 26, 2015

Modi's Overtures To Israel Are Deeply Dangerous By Mani Shankar Aiyar - NDTV

Modi's Overtures To Israel Are Deeply Dangerous

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(Mani Shankar Aiyar is a Congress MP in the Rajya Sabha)

An election in distant Israel would not normally warrant a column on But last week's surprise victory of Benjamin Netanyahu for a fourth term as Prime Minister has such sinister implications for our domestic national identity, and our foreign and defence policy, that we must evaluate the outcome for its implications for us.

Compared to India, Israel is a tiny country of some six million people (of whom 1.7 million are Israeli Arabs), as is its neighbour, Palestine, with about 4 million in the West Bank and nearly 2 million in Gaza. But because we were deeply involved, as a member of two key UN committees, with the end of the British mandate in Palestine (which happened in the same year that we secured our Independence), the Israel story came to be closely linked to the India story. In India, the price we had to pay for Independence was Partition. We were, therefore, wary of endorsing the idea of partitioning Palestine to bring the Israeli state into existence. Nehru suggested a "One-State" solution - that the British should leave behind a composite, secular nation comprising both Arabs and Jews who would frame a federal constitution under which one part would have a Jewish majority and the other an Arab majority, but bound together in a federal state that would be jointly and democratically governed by Jew and Arab together.

The Jews said no to this because they wanted their own separate homeland; the Arabs said no because they saw no reason to pay the price of losing their homeland for a genocide committed not by them but by European Christians during the Second World War. Initially, there was a majority in the relevant UN committees which argued that partition would only lead to even more and longer-lasting problems. Eventually, however, the US and the Soviet Union persuaded or pressurized an overwhelming majority of the international community to vote in favour of partition. India was the only non-Arab, non-Muslim member to stand out against partition.

The November 1947 partition of Palestine led to a brief war in April-May 1948 during which the Arab armies were roundly defeated by the US-armed and Western-backed Zionists seeking a separate State of Israel, and the Palestinian Arab population was largely driven like cattle from their villages to become a rootless diaspora. That disaster is known to all Palestinians and Arabs as Al-Naqba ('The Catastrophe').

There have been other wars since, but the present international position favours a "Two-State" solution which guarantees Israel's continued existence but adds  that there must also be an independent, sovereign Palestine state in the territories occupied by Israel in the 1967 war on the West Bank of the Jordan river and the Gaza strip in the Sinai peninsula.

In the run-up to last week's election, which Benjamin Netanyahu seemed to be on the verge of losing, he suddenly turned around to assert that he would not allow the Palestinians to have a State of their own, and would continue to encourage Jewish settlements on Palestinian territory to preclude the emergence of an integrated Palestinian State. He also denounced the Arab citizens of Israel, who make up about 15% of Israel's electorate, warning the Jews to come out to vote for him to defeat the Arab fifth column in their midst. That is how, by appealing to the basest fears of the Jewish voter, he suddenly came up from behind.

All this is relevant to us because Israel has emerged as Modi's favourite friend in West Asia in contradistinction to the Arabs, stretching from Oman to Morocco, whom Nehru had cultivated as the Arab bulwark of the Nonaligned Movement, thereby thwarting Pakistan's attempts to play the Islamic card against us. In more practical terms, it is the Arabs, not the Israelis who are hosting seven million Indian expatriate workers who constitute our largest single source of remittances in foreign exchange. India's consistent pro-Arab policy has been a principal cause of the warm welcome our workers have enjoyed. In trade too, Arab destinations like Dubai have emerged as principal outlets for Indian exports. Our stakes in the Arab world are high.

On the other hand, Israel is the largest supplier now of India's defence requirements. The security cordon has drawn us closer and closer over the years to an Israel whose domestic policies are repugnant to much of what we have stood for all these years, and been diametrically the opposite of our own approach to inclusivist nation-building in diversity. Much of the Israeli attitude to its Arab minorities and Arab neighbours has been anathema to generations of Indian, particularly since Gandhiji in 1938 proclaimed, "Palestine belongs to the Arabs as France belongs to the French and England to the English." This principled stand has now been distorted by being viewed through the prism of defence cooperation. More disturbingly, the Israeli attitude to Muslims and Islam reflects Hindu extremist views in India. Both the Israeli Jewish mainstream and the Indian fringe believe in religion-based nationhood, with Zionism sharing many of the characteristics and prejudices of the Hindutva brigade. That is what has led Modi to send his felicitations to Netanyahu in Hebrew, the Israel language, as a special gushing gesture of delight at extreme views having catapulted Netanyahu to his last-minute win.

My mind goes back to the only visit I have made to Palestine - in 1998 to join the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of Al-Naqba. I was taken to the home of a Hamas leader, then locked in political battle with Yasser Arafat's party. After he told the amusing story of Arafat having asked him to bring out his cadres for the commemoration, to which the Hamas leader had replied that he could not because Arafat had locked them all up, I more seriously enquired how he could imagine that the Arabs would ever prevail. Pat came his answer, "We are making Palestine in our bedrooms!" He went on to explain that the Arab population of Israel was expanding so much faster than that of the Jews, principally because there was  so much net Jewish emigration out of Israel to the glorious West that by the middle of the 21st century, Israel's Arabs would outnumber the Jews. I thought it another joke, but Netanyahu seems to have taken seriously the possibility of the Israeli Arab vote becoming the determining element in Israeli elections. That is a demographic trend that cannot be reversed so long as so many young Jewish citizens of Israel wish to seek their fortunes outside Israel, thus belying the Zionist argument that a Jewish homeland on Palestinian territory is a necessity that justifies any amount of discrimination against its own non-Jewish citizens, and any amount of aggression against its Palestinian neighbours.

Secular India should not be joining Modi in extending felicitations to the fourth-time Israeli Prime Minister, but in expressing our solidarity with Arabs everywhere in the tragedy of Netanyahu that has now overtaken them - a veritable second Al-Naqba.
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Story First Published: March 24, 2015 00:00 IST

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