India-Israel diplomatic ties: The reality bites back

Just Days after Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and India’s newly elected Prime Minister Narendra Modi exchanged diplomatic niceties and the optimists on both the sides declared beginning of a new era in bilateral relations – the reality has come biting back.

India’s newly elected government has welcomed the formation of Fatah-Hamas ‘Unity Government’. The official statement issued by India’s Foreign Ministry is a relic from the Cold War and a sobering reminder of how far apart both countries still stand.

The reasons for India’s official response are two-fold. Firstly, restating long held positions is a matter of bureaucratic expediency.  The statement does have a symbolic significance, but we must avoid reading too much into it.

Secondly, though diplomatic niceties have been exchanged between the two governments – a ‘pivot’ to Israel in terms of policy has yet to take place in New Delhi.

Moreover, seeing perceived allies of Israel, the US and EU’ welcoming the formation of Fatah-Hamas ‘Unity Government’, India feels comfortable holding on to its position.

In terms of foreign policy impetus, India’s Prime Minister Modi has decided to play it close to home. He is engaging India’s immediate neighbors and even reaching out to the arch-rival Pakistan. PM Modi will certainly have a tough time tackling Pakistan and its sponsoring of cross-border terrorism, but the real geopolitical threat comes from an increasingly militarily assertive China.

Both India’s and China’s great need for foreign investment, high economic growth and appetite for natural resources might inevitably lead to a serious clash of interests. Pakistan is merely a geopolitical nuisance for India, but China is a credible threat.

It would be imprudent to expect that India’s Foreign policy would pivot to Israel at the cost of India’s traditional ties with Arab states, in the same way that Israel’s relations with India do not have come at the cost of Israel’s growing ties with China.

India’s much awaited ‘pivot’ to Israel might not be just around the corner  – as some commentators are expecting. At best, it is a fresh chapter in a long and tedious diplomatic engagement.

However, the efforts to engage India should not be carried out at diplomatic level alone. India is a young nation with more than 50% of country’s population below the age of 25. Young Indian leaders in business, technology and education have great regard for Israeli innovation and entrepreneurship.

There are groundbreaking initiatives going on in field of bilateral cooperation between both the countries and there is certainly room for more.

Israel is taking leadership in agriculture technology and water management in India. Indian students and entrepreneurs have discovered Israel’s start up scene in a big way. There is even a flag-ship program to empower Indian women entrepreneurs.

While obscurantist groups in West are beating the drum for a cultural and academic boycott of Israel, increasing number of Indian universities and research institutions are sighing cooperation agreements with Israeli counterparts; and Indian cities and campuses are hosting Israeli film festivals, musicians and artists.

It is not a coincidence that young Indian leader in politics, commerce, innovation, and culture; who want their country to move ahead, are also the most enthusiastic supports of stronger ties with Israel. They are the best ambassadors and advocates Israel can have and must be part of any Israeli diplomatic initiative in India.

On a passing note, Let us hope that the goodwill greetings from India reach the members of Fatah-Hamas ‘Unity Government’ in time, before this reunion turns into yet another slugfest.

About the Author
Vijeta Uniyal is an Indian journalist based in Europe. He is Contributing Editor for the Commentator and Senior Distinguished Fellow at New York-based Gatestone Institute. He graduated from the Jawaharlal Nehru University (New Delhi) and worked for more than 10 years in international organisations, including German Foreign Office, German Minister for Economics and Technology, Goethe Institute and Humboldt Foundation.