Israel is a newly created Jewish State in the Middles-East region by the United Nations in 1948. Before its creation, the Jewish were living in Palestine as refugee and later formed the State of Israel with the help of Britain and the United States of America.
The Jewish originally belonged to Palestine, but were driven out of it by the Romans in 71AD.1 After the World War-I, when Palestine was became a mandate of Britain, a large number of Jewish began to arrive in Palestine which was inhabited by the Arabs. These created an alarm among the Arabs for losing their land to the Jewish. The Arabs had protested against it and demanded independent Palestine for the Arabs and an end to the immigration of the Jewish. But the persecutions of Jewish in Germany after 1933 had caused a flood of refugee and by 1940 half of the populations of Palestine were Jewish.2 In 1937, the British government had set up the Peel Commission3 to deal with the problem which had proposed for dividing Palestine into two separate States, one for the Arabs and other for the Jewish; but the idea was totally rejected by the Arabs. In 1939, the British had tried to resolve the problem by offering an independent Arab state within ten years and an imposition of restriction on Jewish immigration to ten thousand a year; but this time Jews had rejected the proposal. After the end of the World war-II, the British were weakened by the war and felt it unable to deal with the problem and asked the United Nations to tackle this complicated issue. As a result, in November 1947, the UN had voted to divide Palestine and form an independent Jewish State. In May 1948, David Ben Gurion declared the independence of the new state of Israel4. The new State was immediately attacked by Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Iraq and Lebanon.5 Since its creation, Israel has continuously involved in direct or indirect war with the Arab States. With the creation of the State of Israel, the Middle-East became a battle ground between Israel and other States in the region.
India and Israel have a very short diplomatic history. Though India had recognized Israel as an independent State in 19506, but had not established any diplomatic relation with it. Due to certain internal as well as external circumstances India maintains a distance from Israel. India, after her independence in 1947, required necessary funds and technological helps from both the blocs (US led bloc and USSR led bloc) for her economic and industrial development. On the other hand, Israel after being established had joined the bloc politics by becoming a member of the US led bloc. At the same time India followed the policy of non-alignment, which is against the participation of any bloc politics. At this juncture, India has been maintaining a very good relationship with the Arab world on which she is dependent for her energy requirement and a large numbers of Indian workers have been working in these Arab States which are also a source of earning for foreign exchange. The presence of a large number of Muslim populations in India and the fear of being criticized by Pakistan to be a partisan with the Zionist State, India decided not to maintain any diplomatic relations with the Jewish state.
But the situation was changed after the end of the Gulf War in 1991, when Israel emerged as a dominant power in the Middle-East region. On the other hand, the end of Cold War had also changed the world scenario, which forced India to re-orient her foreign policy. Since most of the armaments of Indian forces were supplied by the former Soviet Union, the disintegration of the Soviet Union caused a serious problem for the supply of armament to Indian military forces. In such situation India needed an alternative reliable supplier of arms for her forces. During that period it was the United States of America or Israel who could replace the position of the former Soviet Union. But India’s relations with the United States was not smooth due to their differences in the era of Cold War and America’s close ties with Pakistan, so India left only with one option i.e. Israel with whom India has no diplomatic relations. On the other hand, Israel has a very close relationship with the US. The US had used her veto power in the UN for as much as 32 times in support of Israel7. Besides most of the weapons that Israel could supply to India needs prior American permission due to joint productions by the two States. After the disintegration of the Soviet Union, India lost the support of Super Power on her international issues. To secure the support of the sole Super Power, i.e. the United States of America, India decided to establish diplomatic relations with Israel to give a signal to Washington regarding India’s intention to redesign her foreign policy in the post Cold war environment. It is interesting to note that despite having good relations with the Arab countries, the Arab League never supported India on Kashmir issue, instead in all occasions it had supported Pakistani claim over it. After the conclusion of Camp David Treaty between Israel and Egypt in 19788, some of the Arab States started establishing diplomatic relations with the State of Israel, which also helped India to change her decision regarding Israel. On the whole, India was interested to be a part of the ongoing West Asian Peace process, for which the United States of America and Israel put a condition upon India to establish full diplomatic relations with Israel to become a party to the peace process. According to Yegar, the Deputy Director General of the Israeli MFA, at that time stressed that participation in the Madrid Peace Conference9 had become a matter of prestige for India. However the Government of Israel made it quite clear that countries that refused to have normal diplomatic relations with her and having such relations with the Arab countries, would be barred from the Madrid Conference.10 The Indian Government realised the sensitivity of the moment and finally made the decision to establish diplomatic relations with Israel. On 23rd January 1992, then Foreign Secretary of India J.N. Dixit, was authorized to announce India’s decision to formally established bilateral relations. On 23rd January 1992, Dixit had discussed with the senior cabinet ministers regarding the timing of the establishment of diplomatic relations with Israel. In his memoirs Dixit stated,
“I was authorized to make a formal announcement of India’s decision to establish diplomatic relations with Israel and the opening of embassies in each other’s capitals. I made this announcement on 24 January”. 11
Though the Government of India was trying to postpone the decision on diplomatic relations with Israel, but due to firm Israeli stance and certain fine-tuning elements finally forced India to make her decision.
The three key factors were instrumental in influencing the timing of the Indian transformation of foreign policy towards Israel at the focal point of the change process. These three change determinants were:
1) The establishment of diplomatic relations between China and Israel on 24 January 1992.
2) The opening of the third round of the Middle East peace talks in Moscow, which took place between 28 and 29 January 1992.
3) The official visit of Prime Minister Narasimha Rao to the US, to attend the UN Security Council meeting in New York, which took place at the beginning of February 1991.
P. R. Kumaraswamy, Professor at the School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), New Delhi and a specialist on Indo-Israel relations stated: “Since 1947, Washington had been nudging India to modify its policy toward Israel. It was not accidental that normalization was announced on the eve of Rao’s visit to New York.”12
An official announcement making the establishment of fully-fledged diplomatic relations between India and Israel, was published simultaneously in Jerusalem, New Delhi and Moscow (where the Israeli Minister of Foreign Affairs was on an official visit participating in the third round of the peace talks) on 29 January 1992. On the same day, the Secretary of the Ministry of External Affairs of India sent a letter to the Israeli Consul in Bombay, Giora Becher, informing him of the following Indian announcement:
“The governments of India and Israel have decided to establish full diplomatic relations. Embassies will be opened in Tel Aviv and New Delhi. Modalities regarding this arrangement will be worked out through normal diplomatic channels. In pursuance of the above, I have been directed to invite your government to open an embassy in New Delhi.” 13
Some of the Arab states were opposed to India’s closer relationship with the State of Israel. According to P.R. Kumaraswamy, “Contrary to past fears and apprehensions, the newly established relations with Israel did not inhibit India from pursuing productive relations with a number of Middle Eastern countries.” 14 While J.N. Dixit was instructed by Prime Minister Rao to brief the Muslim countries in detail about the decision to establish diplomatic relations with Israel and also to instruct the Indian Ambassadors in Arab and other Islamic countries to brief the respective governments to which they were accredited. In his memories, Dixit stated;
“Some of the Arab Ambassadors were aggressively resentful when a couple of my ambassadorial colleagues crossed thresholds of political courtesy and mentioned that India would face uncertain consequences, I decided to take the bull by the horns…I declared that India had not received any reciprocity on the Kashmir issue despite our longstanding support to several Islamic countries in international fora (arena). I also underlined the fact that India would not accept any extraneous limitations on its sovereign right of determining its policy decisions within the framework of Indian interests. There was some criticism of India in the Arab media. Some questioned the wisdom of India’s decision. But this decision did not affect Indo-Arab relations negatively.” 15
India’s new foreign policy towards the Middle-East had marked a paradigm shift from an ideological approach to a pragmatic one and preferred to deal with secular republic of Israel rather than conservative Sheikhdoms. India had changed her stands from one sided position in Arab- Israel conflict to a balanced one. Since independence India has been maintaining cordial relationships with the Middle-East and Arabian Muslim countries, but they used to have a pro-Pakistani attitude in their policies. India had been invited to attend the summit of Islamic states at Rabat (Morocco) in 1969, but due to protests and threat from Pakistan of their withdrawal from the summit, India’s invitation to the summit was cancelled. Again when the Organization of Islamic Conferences (OIC) was founded in 1971 had traditionally been critical of India’s international politics in particular with respect to Kashmir as the Muslim countries allowed their citizens to fight in Kashmir as part of a pan-Islamic jihadist movement.16
In 1991, conference of the Foreign Ministers of the OIC, in Karachi, set up a fact finding mission and proposed that it would be sent to Jammu and Kashmir in order to report on the situation there. Following India’s refusal to allow the mission into the country, the OIC summit condemned India for its violation of human rights in Jammu and Kashmir, thereby encouraging Pakistan to pursue an active Islamic anti-Indian foreign policy. Despite India’s pro-Muslim and pro-Arab foreign policy, the OIC consistently supported Pakistan against India over the Kashmir issue. Finally in 1991, India realised the importance of diplomatic relations with Israel as a counter move against the Arab and Muslim world. Due to such reasons, at the beginning of the nineties, India started reconsidering her relation with the radical Arab world and democratic Israel. With the backdrop of changing geo-political situation in West Asia as well as the changing strategic perception, India now finally began to redirect her diplomatic tools.
The attempts to normalize the bilateral relationship with Israel were started during the terms of Janata Party Government in 1977. The then Israeli Foreign Minister, Moshe Dayan made a secret visit to New Delhi to meet the Indian Prime Minister Moraji Desai17, but not much came out of that visit. The contacts resumed towards the end of Indira Gandhi’s second innings. But the process was referred only as technical cooperation by the official’s familiar with the back ground. Later on Rajiv Gandhi carried forward the process of ties between India and Israel. But he was not taking any grand initiative due to the possible reactions of the Muslim population within India. The ground works for normalization of the relations were prepared during 1990-91 when India supported to revoke the UN resolution of 1975 of equating Zionism with Racism18. Finally it was P. V. Narasimha Rao’s government that recognized the changing geo-political scenario and moved quickly to normalize relations between the two states.
1 R.S. Chaurasia (2005), History of Middle East, New Delhi: Atlantic Publishers and Distributors (P) Ltd. P.95.
2 P. Bassler Gerhard (1997), Attempts to Settle Jewish Refugees in Newfoundland and Labrador, 1934-1939, Annual 5, Chapter 7, The Simon Wiesenthal Center, Los Angeles, California, p.2.
3 The Peel Commission Report July 1937, pp.2-13.
4 “Independence Day 1948: The Most Crowded Hours in... History", (editorial) The Historma, Tel Aviv, p.2.
5 Official documents on ‘1948 Arab-Israel War’, US Department of State, Office of the Historian, US: p.1-2
6 Mezard Isabelle Saint (2010), India and Israel: an unlikely alliance, Le Monde Diplomatique, Paris: p.1.
7 Neff Donald (1993), ‘U.S. Vetoes of U.N. Resolutions on Behalf of Israel’, Washington Report Sept/Oct 1993, p. 82.
8 Document published on ‘Camp David Accords’ by Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, pp.3-4.
9 The Madrid Conference of 1991 was a peace conference held from 30 October to 1 November 1991 in Madrid, hosted by Spain and co-sponsored by the United States and the Soviet Union. It was an attempt by the international community to revive the Israeli–Palestinian peace process through negotiations, involving Israel and the Palestinians as well as the Arab countries, including Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.
10 Itzhak Gerberg, (2008), The Changing Nature of Israeli-Indian Relations: 1948-2005, South Africa: University of South Africa, P.298.
11 J.N. Dixit (1996), My South Block years : Memoirs of a foreign secretary, New Delhi: UBS Publishers’ Distributors, 1st edition, p.312.
12 P.R. Kumaraswamy (2002), ‘India- Israel relations: Humble beginnings, a bright future’, (editorial), Washington: The American Jewish Committee, p.4.
13 Itzhak Gerberg (2008), op.cit. P. 343.
14 P.R. Kumaraswamy (2010), India’s Israel Policy, Columbia University Press, p.352.
15 J.N. Dixit (1996), op.cit. p.312-313
16 Stephen P. Cohen (2001), India – Emerging Power, Washington DC: Brookings Institution Press, p.248.
17 Verinder Grover (1984), West Asia and India’s Foreign Policy, New Delhi: Deep & Deep Publication, P. 170.
18 Aftab Kamal Pasha (2002), Arab-Israeli Peace Process An Indian Perspective, New Delhi: Manas Publication, p.69.