New Delhi: The BRICS “Extraordinary Joint Meeting on the Middle East situation” on Tuesday (November 21), called by current chair of the grouping South Africa, has served to highlight the difference in opinion between India and other BRICS-plus members on the current situation in Israel-Palestine.
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, in his opening remarks, used strong words to call for an immediate ceasefire and described the situation in Gaza as a genocide. He also held Israel responsible for committing war crimes. Chinese President Xi Jinping too made similar remarks, speaking of the “collective punishment of people in Gaza” and the need for a ceasefire.
India, meanwhile, represented by external affairs minister S. Jaishankar, reiterated the need to send urgent humanitarian aid.
While Ramaphosa started his speech with a reference to Hamas’s October 7 attack in Israeli that killed more than 1,200 people, the rest of his address focused on the ongoing devastation in Gaza, where over 11,000 people have been killed by Israeli forces since.
Both Israel and Hamas, Ramaphosa said, have violated international law: “The actions by Israel are in clear violation of international law, including the UN Charter and the Geneva Convention read together with its protocols. In its attacks on civilians and by taking hostages, Hamas has also violated international law and must be held accountable for these actions.”
Using strong words, he continued, “The collective punishment of Palestinian civilians through the unlawful use of force by Israel is a war crime. The deliberate denial of medicine, fuel, food and water to the residents of Gaza is tantamount to genocide.”
The South African president also situated the current situation in the history of occupation of Palestine. “The atrocities that we have witnessed are the latest chapter in a painful history of suffering, oppression, occupation and conflict going back more than 75 years. The root cause of this conflict is the illegal occupation of Palestinian territory by Israel as reflected in UN Security Council Resolution 2334, which states that “Israeli settlements constitutes a flagrant violation under international law.” We therefore urge the international community to agree on urgent and concrete actions to end the suffering in Gaza and establish a path towards a just and peaceful resolution of this conflict,” he said.
Ramaphosa demanded an immediate ceasefire, the opening of humanitarian corridors, the release of civilian hostages, a comprehensive dialogue owned by Palestinians and Israelis, and International Criminal Court prosecutions on war crimes.
Indian external affairs minister S. Jaishankar reiterated India’s longstanding policy that Palestinian concerns must be addressed and that a two-state solution is the answer to the difficulties in the region. However, even while speaking of the “immense human suffering” in Gaza, he followed the Narendra Modi regime’s decision not to hold Israel responsible for any deaths over the last five weeks and only spoke of Hamas’s killings.
“The ongoing Israel-Hamas conflict in Gaza is causing immense human suffering, including to civilians, elderly, women and children.We welcome all efforts of the international community towards de-escalation. Right now, there is an urgent need to ensure that humanitarian aid and relief effectively and safely reach the population of Gaza. It is also imperative that all hostages are released. We believe that there is a universal obligation to observe international humanitarian law,” Jaishankar said.
While condemning the attack by Hamas, Jaishankar did not name the Israeli state when talking about the subsequent crisis and civilian deaths. “We are all aware that the immediate crisis was triggered by the terrorist attack of 7th October. Where terrorism itself is concerned, none of us should or can compromise with it. Hostage taking is equally unacceptable and cannot be condoned. Subsequent developments have deepened our concern even more as we witness large scale civilian casualties and a humanitarian crisis. We strongly condemn any death of civilians,” he said.
Speaking of India’s position on Palestine, he said, “We believe that the concerns of the Palestinian people must be addressed in a serious and sustainable manner. This can only happen with a two-State solution that is based on peaceful co-existence. We have been consistently supportive of international efforts towards this end.”
Jaishankar also mentioned the humanitarian relief India has already sent to Gaza, and said that such efforts will continue.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi did not attend the BRICS meeting as he is currently campaigning for the upcoming assembly elections in Rajasthan.
Among the BRICS members, both old and new, India and Ethiopia were the only two to abstain in the voting for the UN General Assembly Resolution that called for humanitarian pause to allow for supply of food, fuel and water to the Gaza Strip. All the other members had voted in favour.
On October 7, Hamas launched a terror attack from Gaza strip into southern Israel and killed more than 1,400 people. Since then, Israel launched counter-strikes into Gaza which has left more than 14,000 people dead, as per last official count.