With Trump's Jerusalem Move Setting Off Violent Ripples, Palestine Looks to India for Stronger Statement

India's statement did not directly refer to the two-state solution or East Jerusalem, which is India’s traditional position on Palestine – and it was noticed.

Palestinians in Gaza burn signs depicting Israeli and US flags during protest against US intention to move its embassy to Jerusalem. Credit: Reuters/Mohammed Salem

New Delhi: After India issued a conspicuously muted response to US President Donald Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, Palestinian ambassador Adnan Mohammad Jaber Abualhayjaa hoped that New Delhi will issue another statement to spell out its “attitude” on the middle-east process, as well as, to reiterate the position of eastern half of the city as capital of independent Palestine.

On Wednesday, Trump announced a reversal a decades of US policy by recognising Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and ordering the re-location of the embassy from Tel Aviv. While Israel and most American lawmakers welcomed the decision, there was strong disapproval articulated from all world capitals, including close US allies in Europe and Gulf.

Indian foreign ministry spokesperson Raveesh Kumar issued a brief statement on Thursday morning. “India’s position on Palestine is independent and consistent. It is shaped by our views and interests, and not determined by any third country,” he said.

The statement did not directly refer to the two-state solution or East Jerusalem, which is India’s traditional position on Palestine – and it was noticed.

“I think this is not the statement. They (India) have said that they are not connected to any third party. But, we are expecting the government of India to make statement and to announce their attitude towards Jerusalem as one of the last issue to be negotiated between the Palestinians and the Israelis,” Palestinian envoy Abualhayjaa told The Wire.

He added, “Normally, Indians in all their statements recognise East Jerusalem as the capital of the Palestinian state because it is part of the 1967 occupied land”.

Abualhayjaa noted that there was “big condemnation” even before the announced made by Trump from countries in Arab world, France, Britain, Sweden, Turkey and Norway. “They have spoken to Mr Trump and tried to advice him that not to take this step as it will impact the peace process,” he said.

India was notably silent in the run-up to the announcement, even as there was a slew of statements from nearly all world capitals expressing concern from Beijing, London, Paris to Riyadh.

With the move to Jerusalem, the Palestinian diplomat told The Wire that “US has withdrawn from playing a role that they have playing for the last decade as a peace broker.”

When pointed out that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had not mentioned East Jerusalem in his media statement during the visit of Palestinian president, he noted that it had been mentioned in various Arab-Indian conferences and declarations.

External affairs minister Sushma Swaraj’s intervention at the Nam committee meeting in September this year did not mention Jerusalem, but Abualhayjaa asserted that it had re-affirmed “the two-state solution and support the Palestinian people”.

He noted that this support for the “Palestinian cause” had been repeated in the Modi’s message on the occasion of the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People on November 25.

“I think India will keep their positive attitude to the two-state solution, including Jerusalem as one of the last issues to be negotiated and case for two states”.

While he is optimistic, he would still like it to be articulated again by India in the context of yesterday’s White House announcement.

“Normally, government of India delay a little bit in their statement, so we are expecting them to make statement today or tomorrow. I hope that they will make statement – a stronger statement – to affirm their attitude towards the peace process in the middle-east and mention East Jerusalem as the capital of the Palestinian state,” said Abualhayjaa, who has been Palestinian ambassador to India since September 2014.

When asked whether he will convey this personally to Indian establishment, he said, “We will be trying our best to meet (Indian) high level officials”.

Talks were on for a Palestine visit by the Indian prime minister after he skipped Ramallah during his Israel trip this year. The Palestinian envoy told Rajya Sabha TV that he was informed by his Indian interlocutors that the visit was a “reaction to what has happened”.

Also read: Shock, Criticism at Trump’s Decision to Shift US Embassy to Jerusalem

India’s position had been in support of a sovereign and united Palestine “with east Jerusalem as its capital”. In line with the rest of the international community, India’s embassy was based in Tel Aviv.

India supports a negotiated solution resulting in a sovereign, independent, viable and united State of Palestine, with East Jerusalem as its Capital, living within secure and recognised borders, side by side at peace with Israel as endorsed in the Quartet Roadmap and UNSC Resolutions 1397 & 1515. In addition, we have also supported the Arab Peace Initiative.

The above statement was made by S.M. Krishna at the 2012 ministerial meeting of the Non-Aligned Movement’s committee on Palestine, in whose establishment India had been a key actor.

That same year, India had co-sponsored a resolution in the UN General Assembly to make Palestine a ‘non-member state’. In September 2015, India backed the resolution allowing the raising of Palestinian flag at UN premises.

Modi ushered in a more visible partnership with Israel, even as external affairs minister Swaraj asserted that there was no change in India’s traditional support for “Palestinian cause” after she stopped a parliamentary resolution over the Gaza conflict in July 2014.

While India had voted in favour of a UNHRC resolution in 2014 instituting a probe against Israel, New Delhi abstained a year later in Geneva. India has since abstained in subsequent resolutions against Israel in the UN.

India similarly shifted position in another UN body. In April 2016, India voted in favour of a resolution in UNESCO which Israel claimed did not recognise the Jewish heritage of Jerusalem. But, six months later, India abstained and again repeated the same voting pattern in May 2017.

Palestinians react during a protest against US President Donald Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip December 6, 2017. Credit: Reuters

However, at the end of his visit to Israel and Palestine in October 2015, President Pranab Mukherjee stated that India was in favour of a “sovereign, independent, viable and united State of Palestine, with East Jerusalem as its capital, living within secure and recognised borders, side by side at peace with Israel as endorsed in the Quartet Roadmap and relevant UNSC Resolutions.” This was also stated by Indian vice president Hamid Ansari in his visit to Israel in January 2016.

During the same period, India signed onto multilateral documents like the BRICS declarations of 2014, 2015 and 2016 which specified a united Palestine with east Jerusalem as its capital as an essential component for peace in West Asia. The BRICS special envoys on middle east, who met in Vishakhapatnam in April this year, also reiterated this position, as well as, the desire to contribute on a “bigger scale” towards the peace process. However, the 2017 Xiamen declaration of BRICS did not mention East Jerusalem, but did talk of adherence to relevant UNSC resolutions and support for an “independent, viable, territorially contiguous Palestinian State”.

India had also been signatory to the Declaration on Palestine at Asian African Commemorative Conference in Bandung in April 2015 which also spoke about an Independent Palestine with East Jerusalem as its capital.

India’s joint statements with Egypt and Saudi Arabia in 2016 had also referred to the holy city as being part of the two-state solution.

In January 2016, Swaraj went to Bahrain for the first Arab-India Cooperation forum. The Manama declaration’s first item on regional issues was on the Palestinian issue.

Affirming the need to achieve a comprehensive and permanent solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict on the basis of the international legitimacy resolutions, especially UN Security Council resolutions 242 of 1976 and 338 of 1973, the relevant UN resolutions, Madrid Peace conference of 1991 and the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative in Beirut, in implementation of the two-state principle on the establishment of an independent and sovereign Palestine State with East Jerusalem as its capital, living peace side by side with the State of Israel on the 1967 borders, within secure and recognized boundaries.

Calling on Israel to end its occupation of the Palestinian “Arab” territories it seized in 1967 and dismantle all the settlements built there including the settlements erected in the occupied East Jerusalem on the basis that, according to the international Law, they are illegal and illegitimate.

Calling on Israel to release all the Palestinian and Arab prisoners and detainees from its jails, halt the aggressions and crimes being committed by the Israeli settlers against the civilian Palestinians, work on providing International Protection for the Palestinian people and put an end to all the procedures that aim to alter the legal status of East Jerusalem with the aim of changing its nature, identity and Arab culture along with the attempts to change the existing historical status of the blessed Al Aqsa Mosque, which all represent clear violations of the International Law, relevant UN resolutions, the four Geneva conventions.

Four months later, India signed another document – this time with Russia and China – which referred to East Jerusalem as the future Palestinian capital.

This has not, however, been articulated by the Indian political leadership lately. When Modi made a statement while standing next to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in May 2017 – there was no reference to Jerusalem.

The relationship between India and Palestine is built on the foundation of long-standing solidarity and friendship since the days of our own freedom struggle. India has been unwavering in its support of the Palestinian cause. And, we hope to see the realization of a sovereign, independent, united and viable Palestine, co-existing peacefully with Israel. I have reaffirmed our position on this to President Abbas during our conversation today.

Abbas had been specifically invited to India ahead of Modi’s visit to Israel. The invitation had been made as Modi was going to break with past custom and not visit both Israel and Palestine in the same visit.

In a paper for the Delhi-based think tank Institute for Defense Studies and Analyses, Jawaharlal Nehru University’s P. R. Kumaraswamy claimed that the absence of East Jerusalem from Modi’s media statement was deliberate and signalled a “major departure from the past”.

The Indian prime minister did not visit the contested areas in Jerusalem, but his host, Netanyahu pointed out Temple Mount from the window of Hotel David. The joint communique issued at the end of Modi’s visit to Israel was silent on the two-state solution.

The two prime ministers discussed the developments pertaining to the Israeli-Palestinian Peace Process. They underlined the need for the establishment of a just and durable peace in the region. They reaffirmed their support for an early negotiated solution between the sides based on mutual recognition and security arrangements. [India-Israel joint statement, 2017]

In New York, Swaraj took part in the NAM ministerial meeting on Palestine along the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in September. She said that India’s commitment to the Palestinian cause can “never be undermined”. In contrast to the 2012 ‘intervention’, Swaraj again did not make a verbatim reference to the previous Indian position on UNSC resolutions on Palestine or the boundaries and capital of an independent Palestinian state.

The latest Indian statement from Modi last month was also along the same contours – only alluding support for a “sovereign, independent, united and viable Palestine, coexisting peacefully with Israel”.

Unlike India’s response which did not mention East Jerusalem, the Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang specifically referred to the status of the holy city at the regular media briefing in Beijing.

“China firmly supports the peace process in the Middle East, supports the handling of the Middle East issue including the status of Jerusalem in accordance with the relevant UN resolutions, and supports the establishment of a fully sovereign and independent Palestinian state based on the 1967 border with East Jerusalem as its capital. China calls on all parties to uphold their objective and fair stance and make efforts for restarting the negotiations between Palestine and Israel as soon as possible so as to maintain regional peace and stability,” he said.

British prime minister Theresa May (probably US’s closest foreign ally), publicly disagreed with the decision by Trump. She also articulated UK’s “long-standing” position that status of Jerusalem “should be determined in a negotiated settlement between the Israelis and the Palestinians, and Jerusalem should ultimately be the shared capital of the Israeli and Palestinian states”. “In line with relevant Security Council Resolutions, we regard East Jerusalem as part of the Occupied Palestinian Territories,” May added.

Russia pointed out that Moscow has traditionally supported West Jerusalem as capital of Israel, but it has not tried to change the status-quo by taking unilateral action.

“In practical terms, our Embassy can be moved from Tel Aviv to West Jerusalem after the Palestinians and the Israelis agree on all issues of the final status of the Palestinian territories. By recognising West Jerusalem as the capital of the State of Israel, we do not impose any solutions on the parties. Those, including the future status of Jerusalem, should be agreed upon in the direct Palestinian-Israeli negotiations,” said Russian ambassador to Israel, Alexander Shein.

Saudi Arabia expressed “great disappointment” over Trump’s announcement. In a statement carried by the Saudi Press Agency (SPA), the royal court said the Kingdom had previously warned of the serious consequences of such an “irresponsible and unwarranted step.” Saudi King Salman warned Trump that the move a “dangerous step” that could rile Muslims worldwide.

Israel has welcomed Trump’s decision with open arms, with President Reuven Rivlin describing it as a “beautiful gift” to mark Israel’s 70 years of existence, while Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu termed it as a “historic day”.