On Wednesday, one person was killed and 21 were injured in two explosions that appeared to be a “coordinated terror attack” at bus stops in Jerusalem in Israel. The Israeli government said that it suspected Palestinian involvement in the attack, which comes amidst escalating tensions in the region.
While the Palestinian side has not claimed responsibility for the offensives so far, the Hamas terror group, that controls the Gaza strip area, hailed the bombings and said in a statement that “the action conveyed the message to the occupation by saying that our people will stand firm on their land and cling to the path of resistance.”
This has brought the focus on the recent spurt in Israel-Palestine violence. Here we look at how tensions have been fanned in the last few months, where are the roots of these strained relations, and how has India’s stance on the conflict changed over the years.
Has there been a surge in such attacks in recent times?
Wednesday’s bombings are part of a larger trajectory of sporadic bouts of violence between the two sides. Less than a fortnight ago, a Palestinian attacker allegedly killed two and wounded four Israelis in the West Bank area on November 15. In fact, at least 29 Israelis have so far been killed in the surge in attacks this year, including three who were killed on Israeli Independence Day in May. From stabbings, car rammings, shootings, and bombings, such targeted violence has continued to hit the headlines.
These attacks come against the backdrop of the Israeli military’s ongoing anti-terror offensive in the Palestinian Authority-controlled West Bank following the attacks which have left over 130 Palestinians dead. As the two dispensations clash to seize control over these buffer areas, many civilians have borne the brunt of escalating violence with reports suggesting that more than 2,000 Palestinians have been apprehended in these Israeli raids since the beginning of the year.
What are the roots of the Israel-Palestine conflict?
The conflict between the two states is rooted in a tussle between culture, religious identity, and land, primarily a control over the city of Jerusalem. While Israel claims the whole of Jerusalem as its capital, the Palestinians claim East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state.
Jerusalem has been the key bone of contestation as it houses the Al Aqsa Mosque, which is regarded as the third holiest shrine for Islam after Mecca and Medina. Likewise, the Zionist (Jewish) movement too reveres the city which houses the Western Wall, a sacred Jewish site below Al-Aqsa. While most Orthodox Jews do not pray inside the compound, believing it to not be religiously acceptable, several hardline Israeli religious nationalists have in recent times encouraged Jewish prayer on the site, with elements calling for the construction of a Jewish temple there.
These parallel claims have often made Jerusalem and the adjoining West Bank area the site of major conflicts. In fact, in April 2022, at least 42 Palestinians were injured in a raid by Israeli police forces on the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound. The month of Ramadan saw frequent raids by Israeli forces which left nearly 300 Palestinians injured and prayers regularly disrupted, Al Jazeera reported.
This multifaceted conflict has essentially gone on for more than 100 years now, and runs back to between 1882 to 1948, when the Jews fleeing persecution from around the world gathered in Palestine, which they believe to be their ancient homeland.
Have any agreements been signed on this front?
When the Ottoman empire disintegrated in the aftermath of the first World War, Britain gained control over Palestine, which was then home to a majority of Arabs and a Jewish minority. Through the 1917 Balfour Declaration, however, the United Kingdom declared its support for the establishment of a "national home for the Jewish people" in Palestine, which was fervently opposed by the Arabs.
Finally in 1947, Britain brought the Palestine question to the United Nations, which in turn devised a partition plan to create two separate states, with the city of Jerusalem governed by an international arrangement. This proposal was, however, rejected by the Arabs and subsequently sparked tensions after Israel declared its independence in 1948.
Following a series of territorial wars beginning with the 1948 Arab-Israeli war until the 1967 six-day war, Israeli forces captured East Jerusalem and the West Bank, various areas of Syrian Golan Heights, Gaza and the Egyptian Sinai Peninsula. Cut to present, Jerusalem, Gaza, and West Bank are the home for for both Israeli and Palestinian settlers.
How has the global community reacted to the conflict?
The United Nations General Assembly, the UN Security Council, and the International Court of Justice continue to back the partition plan that advocates for a “two state solution.” These multilateral fora have also condemned the Jewish settlements.
While US President Joe Biden has voiced his support for the two-state solution, the country has simultaneously maintained that Israel has a right to defend itself if it is attacked in deadly violence.
Many countries across the globe have remained divided on the issue with Iran, Qatar and Turkey strongly supporting the Palestinian cause and even backing the Hamas, while Saudi Arabia and UAE posing as Israel’s de-facto allies.
Against this backdrop, India has often remained silent on the bombings, but has time and again backed a two state solution at the UNSC. India’s representatives at the UN have called for restraint on both sides and a resumption of direct talks to resolve the decades long conflict.
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Has India’s stance to the conflict changed over the years?
Historically, India held the accolade of being the only major non-Arab, non-Muslim nation to back the Palestinian cause. In 1974, India was quick to recognise the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) as the sole and legitimate representative of the Palestinian people. Later in 1975, the first PLO office was set up in New Delhi and an embassy was set up in 1980. In 1988, India became one of the first countries to recognise the newly established state of Palestine.
Even at the global stage, India has been at the forefront, backing “the right of Palestinians to self-determination” and supported Palestine’s inclusion as a ‘non-member Observer state’ at the UN in 2012. Through these years, India sustained a policy of hyphenating the ties with Israel – linking them to ties with the Palestinian Authority, wherein a visit of the heads of state to Israel was accompanied by a visit to the Palestinian land as well.
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However, this stance changed under the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government’s second term wherein Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2017 for the first time visited Israel but skipped a customary stoppage in Palestine. This has come to be described as a policy of “De-Hyphenation.”
What is the policy of De-Hyphenation about?
India’s stance on the conflict has shifted from a four-decades long pro-Palestine position to a careful balancing act, following the establishment of India-Israel diplomatic relations in 1992. Thus, de-hyphenation simply suggests a tilt towards an ‘independent’ foreign policy wherein bilateral relations with Israel are based solely on its own merits, separate from its relationship with the Palestinians.
Analysts have pointed out that India’s growing proximity with the US has been a part of this policy shift. In fact, some even regard this as a “pro-Israel” policy, wherein Israel is still condemned as an aggressive, transgressor state by the global community.
This policy shift has been exemplified with India’s changed voting pattern at the UN, wherein in 2019, India backed Israel at the ECOSOC (Economic and Social Council) to deny observer status to a Palestinian organisation. Additionally, India also abstained on a resolution demanding a probe into Israeli actions in the Gaza Strip at the UN Human Rights Council.
This tilt in India’s stance has been noted and a renewed perception of New Delhi’s relations with Israel even led the Palestinian Prime Minister to urge India to play a more “stabilising role” in West Asia along the sidelines of COP26 in Glasgow last year.