India was one of the early supporters of Palestine. Yet that strong backing for Palestine has diminished considerably in the last couple of decades, as India, like the rest of the world had got distracted and paid much less attention to the plight of the hapless civilians caught by in decades of conflict.
Since 1992, as India and Israel scaled up diplomatic ties, political relations with Tel Aviv flourished. Israel is now a defence supplier to India and is also involved in agriculture. People-to-people contacts are flowering. New Delhi continues to pay lip service to the need for Palestine’s right to exist as an independent country, yet can do little to promote this. So while making the right noises at the UN and other international forums, Delhi like every other country has shrugged off the problems of the Palestinians.
Yet India maintains a delicate balance between its expanding ties with Israel and its old historical support for Palestine. Till a few years ago, any visit to Israel by an Indian leader meant a visit to Ramallah too. That has since stopped.
India’s support for the Palestinian cause was an integral part of the nation’s foreign policy in the early years after independence. New Delhi was one of the major non-Arab, non-Muslim countries to back the Palestinian demand for an independent state. In those early years when countries in Asia and Africa had thrown off colonial rule and were looking ahead to a world full of hope, support for Palestine was strong.
In 1974, India recognised the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) of Yasser Arafat as the sole and legitimate representative of the Palestinian people. In 1975, the first PLO office was set up in New Delhi. This was followed in 1980 with a full-fledged embassy. Again in 1988, India was one of the first countries to recognise the state of Palestine. In 1996 New Delhi had an office in Gaza City which later moved to Ramallah in 2003.
PLO leader Yasser Arafat was a great friend of India. In fact, once Arafat was out of the scene international support for Palestine dwindled considerably. Yet at the UN, India continues to bat for Palestine. India co-sponsored the draft resolution on “the right of Palestinians to self-determination” and voted in favour of it during the 53rd session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA). At the UN in 2003, India again was clearly against the construction of the Separation Wall by Israel. New Delhi supported the UNGA Resolution of November 29, 2012, that admitted Palestine as a ‘non-member Observer state’ at the UN without voting rights. India was one of the 128 countries that voted in favour of the UNGA Resolution on December 21, 2017, regarding the status of Jerusalem in the backdrop of Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and shift the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
As in many other parts of the world, there is empathy for Palestinians across India, but beyond that, the Israel-Palestine conflict has slipped out of people’s minds.