Reading Modi's Many, Fervent Hugs For Netanyahu

Published: July 10, 2017 18:25 IST
Can Israel be de-hyphenated from Palestine any more than Modi 2002 can be de-hyphenated from Modi 2017? The question is germane because even as Modi and his apologists try to distance Modi in domestic policy from the pogrom over which he loomed in Gujarat, so do Modi and his cohort try in foreign policy to project an Israel that is unrelated to the atrocities that have been inflicted, and continue to be inflicted, on Palestine and its people - documented most recently in a 2017 report for the UN Economic and Social Commission for West Asia by Prof Richard Falk, renowned emeritus professor of Princeton University, and his colleague, Virginia Tilley. Their report follows the 2009 Richard Goldstone fact-finding report to the UN on the atrocities committed by Israel in the war it unleashed on the Gaza Strip from December 28, 2008 to January 17, 2009 that took almost the same number of Palestinian lives as did the Gujarat pogrom of February-March 2002 take of Indian Muslim lives. We are not talking history. We are talking of contemporary times in the run-up to the first-ever visit by an Indian Prime Minister to Israel, a state indicted in both these reports.

De-hyphenation cannot be done - for the Indian Prime Minister of today arose from the Chief Minister of the horrors of fifteen years ago, even as all the achievements of Israel are grounded in their hounding out 750,000 Palestinians from the Palestinian homeland seventy years ago and imprisoning in Israel's backyard - the Occupied Territories - millions rendered exiles in their own homes and another 1.7 million reduced to second-class citizenship in a nation explicitly reserved for one race and one religion to the exclusion of all others.

The Palestinians are a people who would be free if Israel had not been conjured up as a balm to appease the conscience of the European Christians who had caused the Holocaust by systematically inflicting for two millennia dreadful deeds on the Jews who took refuge amongst them. (Read Shylock in Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice for a poignant rendering of the awful treatment meted out to them). Ironically, the only time the Jews were safe and secure in Europe was in the Arab empire of Andalus that ruled over the Iberian Peninsula (what is now Spain and Portugal) for 781 years between AD 711 and 1492.

When Modi embraced Netanyahu, it was Savarkar embracing Theodore Herzl, displacing Gandhi who had famously written in the Harijan in 1938: "Palestine belongs to the Arabs as France belongs to the French and England to the English". Modi was bent on replacing the Mahatma with Savarkar who, on December 19, 1947, celebrated the vivisection of Palestine by proclaiming: "The creation of a strong and independent Jewish state must serve to checkmate the aggressive tendencies of Moslem fanaticism in general".

That, not a few shekels worth of defence equipment, is why Modi so fervently and repeatedly embraced Netanyahu.

Netanyahu and his extreme Zionist Likud party have repeatedly been returned to power in Israel. He was PM when I visited Gaza at the invitation of Yasser Arafat for the doleful commemoration in 1998 by the Palestine National Authority of the 50thanniversary of Al-Naqba, the "Catastrophe" that massacred tens of thousands of Palestinians and drove three-quarters of a million Palestinians out of their burnt homes as Israel proclaimed its establishment as a state at the expiry of the League of Nations' British mandate on May 14, 1948. The Oslo agreement had allowed Arafat to return to Gaza. At my long meeting with him on May 16, 1998, Arafat sadly shook his head and said the "peace process" had been "frozen". I intervened with a question, "Frozen, because of the Israelis or because of Netanyahu?" "Netanyahu," he immediately and firmly replied, "it is Netanyahu who is refusing to accurately and honestly implement what has been signed" and recalled that even Israel's President had said that "what Netanyahu is doing is wrong and against Israel itself". "The problem," Arafat added, "is that Netanyahu does not believe in peace, he is against the peace process." (I wrote up my visit for Encounter, volume 1, no.4, July-August 1998, from which I have retrieved these quotes).

In Modi, Netanyahu has discovered his soul-mate. Both are economical with the truth. A few weeks before embarking for Tel Aviv, Modi received the President of the Palestinian National Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, in New Delhi. At their press conference, Modi affirmed, "India has been unwavering in its support for the Palestinian cause." (True, at least till Modi arrived on the scene: Modi's India has twice in succession, and in complete violation of past precedent, abstained on UN resolutions, carried by huge majorities of our erstwhile partners and several shocked Europeans, relating to Israeli atrocities in Palestine, and the Indian delegation to the last non-aligned summit in Venezuela - not attended by the otherwise endlessly peripatetic Modi - was instructed to not say anything on Palestine). Having uttered this half-truth in Abbas' presence, Modi added, "We hope to see the realization of a sovereign, independent, united and viable Palestine, co-existing peacefully with Israel (through) an early negotiated solution."

However, there was no mention of any of this when Modi met Netanyahu. In an anodyne, throwaway penultimate paragraph of their Joint Statement, it was baldly stated that they "discussed" the (dead in the water) "Israeli-Palestinian peace process" (sabotaged by Netanyahu when Hamas joined the Palestinian delegation), sought the establishment of a "just and durable peace in the region" (how can there be justice in the region if justice is denied to the Palestinians? How can there be peace without justice?), and "reaffirmed" their support for "an early negotiated settlement" (repeatedly undermined by Netanyahu after Oslo, Camp David and the Wye River accords). No mention, as with Abbas, of the "long and-standing solidarity and friendship" between India and Palestine "since the days of our freedom struggle", and no talk of a "sovereign, independent" or, indeed, of a "united and viable Palestine" - to all of which Netanyahu is firmly opposed. Thus is India's foreign policy reduced to a Janus-faced charade, with Modi saying one thing to the Palestinians and quite another to the Israelis on a matter that has always "hyphenated" Israel with its heartless oppression of the Palestinian Arabs living within its state and without.

The Palestinians have not been fooled. Politely but unambiguously, Palestine's deputy Foreign Minister, Tasar Jaradat, told Al-Jazeera (as per News Palestine 5 July 2017), "We expected him to visit both Israel and Palestine. To play an important role between the two sides and to be able to spread the message of peace, one should visit both sides." Quite.

As another keen observer of Israel-Palestine conflicts, PR Kumaraswamy of New Delhi's Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses (who studied in Israel and is sympathetic to it) remarks, in an article that is enthusiastically supportive of "de-hyphenization", Modi "skipping Ramallah" - the headquarters of the PNA - "is a tectonic shift...a more powerful signal than all the courtesies that await Modi in Israel. This time the wind is different, chilly and unmistakable."

Modi has, indeed, abandoned the Palestinian cause, as definitively as Netanyahu. No wonder they couldn't stop hugging each other.

(Mani Shankar Aiyar is former Congress MP, Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha.)

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