EXTERNAL Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj's statement on the ongoing Gaza crisis during a discussion in the Rajya Sabha is an exercise in political correctness. By stating that New Delhi's stance on the Israel-Palestine issue has not shifted, and going ahead with a pro forma denunciation of violence, Ms. Swaraj has missed a golden opportunity to impress upon a domestic audience that the Modi administration is pursuing a fresh statesman-like approach on a complex global issue. Besides, she may have also let down a wider international audience, especially in West Asia and North Africa, which has been looking for a stronger and principled Indian voice to help resolve the spiralling crisis.
The new government seems to have missed the full import of the Gaza situation by choosing to espouse a minimalist position of equidistance between the Palestinians and Israel. It is important to recognise that the Israel-Palestinian issue is the core of instability in West Asia — a region that is the lifeline of India's economy because of its huge oil and gas reserves. A long-term interest in energy security alone demands that New Delhi — a friend of both Israel and the Palestinians — should leverage its unique position to persuade both sides to revive peace talks. There is reason to believe that greater diplomatic activism by India on the Israel-Palestine issue would be welcomed by the emerging powers as well as the global south, which is looking for new leaders on the global stage. This is especially true at a time when the international system is mutating from the unipolarity of the 1990s to the emergence of a multipolar world in the second decade of the twenty-first century. However, in taking a forthright position, the government has to contend with a powerful pro-Israel constituency in India. Citing India's close military relationship with Israel, Tel Aviv's friends construe any position taken by India that is even mildly critical of Israel as a threat to national security. Nothing could be farther from the truth, for Indo-Israel military ties are premised on interdependence, with New Delhi providing a huge market for military products as well as joint ventures, which Israel would find hard to give up. In navigating a dense grey zone, Ms. Swaraj could have followed the lead provided by BRICS, which has at the Fortaleza fully appreciated that the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is fundamental to sustainable peace in West Asia. The new grouping has also unambiguously stressed that dialogue must be resumed, which would result in a two-state solution based on the lines of June 4, 1967, with East Jerusalem as the capital of an independent Palestinian state.
(C) The Hindu.