Modi was ill-advised to visit Israel Worse, to make it a Love Fest | Daily News


Modi was ill-advised to visit Israel Worse, to make it a Love Fest

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

While the prime minister’s visit to Israel is not objectionable, what is shocking is that it took place as if Palestine is a myth and that the only reality of the Holy Land is Israel, Israel and more Israel

Ever since ‘the Palestine question’ was brought before the United Nations by the British in 1947, India has shown a balance, a sense of perspective and of history in its response to Israel. It has wanted to be and has been singularly fair to the two principal communities involved: the world’s war-ravaged Jews who settled in the new country with British help, and the doughty Arabs whose lands were alienated. India’s position has been appreciated, respected by all for its honesty and integrity.

When Israel was formed, under international aegis, India recognised the new state. When Israel attacked and occupied more land in Palestine, turning hundreds of thousands of Arabs into refugees, India said that was wholly wrong, outrageous. And since the occupation continued, with Israel becoming more and more bellicose, India held back diplomatic relations with Tel Aviv and upwardly calibrated its ties with Palestinian leaders, notably Yasser Arafat. No Indian Prime Minister, from Jawaharlal Nehru who first recognised Israel, to Narasimha Rao who initiated diplomatic ties, to A.B. Vajpayee who received a visit from the then Israeli Prime Minister, right up to Manmohan Singh, ever visited Israel. It was important to make the statement, to Israel, to the Arab world, to the world at large that so long as Israel was expansionist, and sought to dominate or conquer even the rest of Palestine, violating numerous resolutions of the UN, Israel was an offender. Justice to the world’s Jews is one thing, Zionism quite another.

Arab counter-violence

India did not exculpate Arab counter-violence either. It knew that justice for the Arabs is one thing, Hamas’s violent acts of terror quite another.

But at the core, India saw that the problem was the ground reality of Israel’s holding on to Arab’s greatly prized lands, which Israel had seized by force, in the face of international objections and UN resolutions in the passing of which India was always vocal, even vociferous. Until that ground reality of occupation remained unchanged, India’s fair and just and humane policy needed no change.

And now, it has changed.

I believe Prime Minister Narendra Modi was ill-advised to make his just-concluded trip. Worse, to make it a love fest.

Before going into the implications of the visit, a review of the history of that problem is essential.

As long as one hundred years ago, on August 23, 1917, the House of Commons discussed the subject of ‘Palestine for the Jews’ in what has become famous as the Balfour Declaration, so named after the then British Foreign Secretary, Arthur James Balfour. As the only Jew in the British Cabinet at the time, Edward Samuel Montagu, who was later to be a Secretary of State for India, could have been expected to support the idea of Palestine for the Jews. But Montagu being a fair minded man, he did the opposite.

He passionately opposed the motion and submitted a memorandum to the cabinet in which he said: “Zionism has always seemed to me to be a mischievous political creed, untenable by any patriotic citizen… I assert that there is not a Jewish nation… When the Jews are told that Palestine is their national home, every country will immediately desire to get rid of its Jewish citizens, and you will find a population in Palestine driving out its present inhabitants, taking all the best in the country…It is quite true that Palestine plays a large part in Jewish history, but so it does in modern Mohammedan history… I would say… that the Government will be prepared to do everything in their power to obtain for Jews in Palestine complete liberty of settlement and life on an equality with the inhabitants of that country who profess other religious beliefs. I would ask that the Government should go no further.”

Montagu was heeded by Balfour in part, but not in the main. The declaration of November 2, 1917, stated “His Majesty’s government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.”

A separate state of Palestine thus got “mandated”, mandated by Britain.

India’s long history of balanced engagement

In 1937, Nehru wrote to Krishna Menon about the Indian National Congress’ stand: “Our position is that Palestine must be essentially an Arab country and independent. Further, that the Arabs and Jews must meet together and compose their differences on the basis of Palestinian independence”.

In November 1938, as World War II was looming, Gandhi wrote in Harijan on the revived bid for a Jewish homeland in Palestine: “The Palestine of the Biblical conception is not a geographical tract. It is in their hearts. But if they must look to the Palestine of geography as their national home, it is wrong to enter it under the shadow of the British gun…They can settle in Palestine only by the goodwill of the Arabs.” And then, unforgettably, in the same journal on November 26, 1938: “Palestine belongs to the Arabs in the same sense that England belongs to the English or France to the French. It is wrong and inhuman to impose the Jews on the Arabs. What is going on in Palestine today cannot be justified by any moral code of conduct. The mandates have no sanction but that of the last war. Surely it would be a crime against humanity to reduce the proud Arabs so that Palestine can be restored to the Jews partly or wholly as their national home.”

‘Crime against humanity’ is no ordinary chastisement. And it was, essentially, a chastisement of the British, who were violating their promises to the Arabs and even the qualifications under the Balfour Declaration for the rights of the non-Jewish people of Palestine.


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