Abstract: India’s presence in the Middle East region has been continuously evolving over the last few decades. An indicator of its ambitions and positions can be gleaned from its foreign policy stances in the Israel – Palestine conflict. Long considered a significant aspect of both Arab politics and India’s Middle East policy, Palestine’s importance is gradually receding. Given Israel’s growing clout as an arms supplier to many countries including India, the Arab world’s gradual acceptance of Israel and an Indian government aligned with Israel’s right-wing world view, India’s seeming neutrality in the recent Israel – Palestine clashes deserves an examination.

This brief thus, explains the dynamics underpinning India’s positions in the conflict arguing that subtle shifts in India’s alignments have been constantly taking place with the May 2021 incidents comprising one such recalibration point. It also situates this shift within India’s otherwise preferred position of neutrality in the Middle East while reasoning out its future trajectory.

Keywords: India, Israel Palestine, Neutrality, United Nations, Hamas

Introduction

Recent international news cycles have been flooded with horrifying images and videos of Israeli forces launching several illegal operations to evict Palestinians from the Sheikh Jarrah District in a bid to expand its annexation of Palestinian lands and opening aggressions in the Masjid al Aqsa, considered a holy site by Muslims, Jews and Christians. In response, the non-state militant actor Hamas launched close to 2,000 rockets into Israeli territory. The ensuing tensions and conflict resulted in the death of close to 250 Palestinians and about 20 Israelis.[i]

Against this backdrop, global condemnation and contrasting support has been abundantly expressed against both sides. Many countries such as the United States and other European nations as well as different celebrities have supported the Israeli right to self-defence and criticized Hamas as a terrorist organization, whereas many other individuals and nations across the world have offered their support for Palestine and criticized Israel’s disproportionate response and arrests of Palestinians.[ii]

India’s stance in this tension has been curiously neutral. In an address to the United Nations Security Council, the Indian ambassador TS Tirumurthy condemned both the rocket attacks coming from Gaza (perpetrated by Hamas) as well as the Israeli aggressions in Palestine. More specifically, in the United Nations Security Council, it pointedly noted that the hostilities were started by the Israelis with the assault on worshippers in the Masjid al Aqsa complex during the last days of Ramadan.[iii]

This piece offers a brief explanation of the Indian stance on the Israeli Palestinian issue. Centrally it tries to answer the question of why India has adopted a seemingly neutral position on this issue, despite a growing congeniality between it and Israel. It does so by sketching out India’s relations with both Israel and Palestine since India’s independence, marking various phases and shifts in these relations. It then provides all the factors that could have given India some comfort in taking a more pro-Israeli stance and finally explains the reasons for this neutrality linking it to India’s strategy of balancing act across the Middle East’s conflicts.