Prime Minister Narendra Modi is expected to embark on a historic visit to Israel later this year. No Indian Prime Minister has ever visited Israel. The NDA government has indicated that they will pursue a fresh approach with regard to Israel. Hence it is an appropriate time to discuss potential benefits of this change in policy and also its disadvantages.
India's relationship with Israel is intertwined with its relationship with Palestine. India's viewpoint on the Israel-Palestine conflict has historically had a negative impact on its relationship with Israel. Many factors affected India's position on the creation of the state of Israel in 1948 such as India's own experience with partition based on religious lines. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is also based on religious identities; Jews constitute a vast majority of the population of Israel while Palestinians are mostly Muslims. In 1949 India voted against Israel's admission into the United Nations as Prime Minister Nehru had not wanted to offend the sentiments of his friends in the Arab countries. Also, even after partition India had a large population of Muslims and the Congress government at the centre did not want to antagonise them. The Indian government did not have any formal diplomatic relationship with Israel until January 1992. Since then economic and military cooperation has increased manifold between the two countries. India is the largest buyer of Israeli military equipment and Israel is the second largest defence supplier to India after Russia. However diplomatic relations have not been that healthy as the Indian government under the Congress had repeatedly condemned Israeli military strikes in Palestinian territories. India was also one of the first countries to recognize the state of Palestine.
Hindu nationalist organisations of the Sangh Parivar have always supported Israel. It is important to note that when the then Israeli PM Ariel Sharon visited India in 2003, the NDA was in power at the centre. The Modi government also seems more sympathetic to Israel than its predecessors. The decision to improve our diplomatic ties with Israel has to be analysed critically as it has both pros n cons. Both India and Israel are victims of Islamist terrorist activities perpetrated by groups operating within the borders as well as from outside. Hence military cooperation, intelligence sharing and a friendly relationship between the two heads of government is exceedingly important in order to deal with threats to the security of our nation. Economic cooperation between the two countries will also benefit India enormously and efforts are being made to facilitate a free trade agreement between India and Israel which will probably be signed during Prime Minister Modi's visit to Israel. Obviously each country has to look to reap the maximum advantage economically as well as strategically from a relationship with any other country. India stands to gain a lot economically as well as in the sphere of defence and military cooperation, if ties with Israel are improved further and understandably. The NDA government uses this argument against critics who want no cooperation between India and Israel.
Critics argue that this change in policy is due to the need of the BJP government to appease the RSS and it reflects the anti-Muslim stance of the Sangh Parivar. Recent UN reports have spoken of war crimes committed by Israeli soldiers against Palestinians. India has always been a huge supporter and defender of basic human rights and such blatant violations of human rights cannot be simply ignored. Millions of innocent lives have been lost due to the conflict between Israel and Palestine, the vast majority of them being Palestinian.
While economic interests are of utmost importance and India cannot afford to ignore Israel as was done by governments till 1992, the Modi government has to keep in mind the basic value of human rights which has been given great importance in the rich political history of our country. India has to urge the Israeli government to stop unnecessary military operations by Israel against Palestinian civilians. While improving our diplomatic relationship with Israel India also has to stress that a peaceful, non-violent resolution of the seemingly perennial conflict is the need of the hour. The Indian government should encourage talks between the leaders of Israel and Palestine as only dialogue will bring a solution and not endless violence. India has always supported the Palestinian cause and we should not and cannot abandon our support to Palestinian people and their legitimate demand for a nation-state.