The Israel-Hamas War: India's de-hyphenated approach and balanced position
India has followed a principled stand in the discussion as well as voting in the UNGA
The terrorist attack carried out by Hamas on Israel on October 7, 2023 and Israel's subsequent declaration of war against Hamas have once again heightened tensions in West Asia.
Similar to previous Israel-Palestine conflicts, this ongoing war is having profound implications on regional politics and has divided the opinion of the international community. The ripple effects of this conflict are visible throughout the West Asian region, which underscores the complex and delicate nature of the Israel-Palestine issue.
India has maintained a balanced and nuanced position on the conflict. India strongly condemned the Hamas terrorist attack and has expressed its solidarity with Israel. Although India has not formally designated Hamas as a terrorist organisation, it has called the October 7 attack on Israel a terrorist act. Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas after the blast in the Al Ahli hospital in Gaza that killed hundreds of people. While expressing his concern over the loss of lives, Prime Minister Modi reiterated India’s position towards the long-standing Israel-Palestine issue.
As the war intensified and the number of casualties in Gaza increased, India was one of the first countries to announce aid for Palestine. On October 22, 2023, as the Rafah border crossing opened for the first time since the beginning of the war to allow humanitarian aid to Gaza, India supplied lifesaving medicines and disaster relief materials for Palestine.
India continues its de-hyphenated approach towards the Israel and Palestine issue. It maintains strong political, economic and military ties with Israel and, at the same time, supports the creation of an independent Palestinian state according to a two-state formula. India calls for the resumption of direct negotiations between Israel and Palestine to resolve the Israel-Palestine conflict. Prime Minister Modi’s statement in the aftermath of the October 7 Hamas attack on Israel has reiterated that while India is keen to support Palestine in all possible ways towards economic development and technological progress, terrorism perpetrated by the Palestinian armed groups is not acceptable to India.
In the current crisis, India has reached out to important regional players like Iran, Egypt and the UAE to discuss the deteriorating security situation, loss of lives and the humanitarian situation. India is not getting directly involved in the regional efforts but it is making efforts by proactively reaching out to the regional players to discuss the critical issues and pacify the situation.
The situation in Gaza has been discussed at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA). India has followed its principled stand in the discussion as well as voting in the UNGA. On October 26, 2023, a draft resolution titled “Protection of civilians and upholding legal and humanitarian obligations” was tabled for discussion. The draft resolution initiated by mostly the Arab and Islamic countries called for the cessation of hostilities and providing unhindered humanitarian access to the humanitarian agencies. Among other demands, it also called upon Israel to rescind its order to the civilians to vacate north Gaza and move south, and the unconditional release of Palestinian civilians held by Israel.
India abstained from voting on this draft resolution. India believes that civilian lives in Palestine should be protected and humanitarian assistance should be provided to the people immediately, while at the same time, the terrorist acts perpetrated by Hamas on Israel have to be explicitly condemned. India condemned the use of force by both sides and urged them to exercise restraint. India reiterated its position that a two-state solution with both Israeli and Palestinian States living side by side is the best solution to end the crisis. India also emphasised that engaging in diplomacy and dialogue between Israel and Palestine is the only constructive way forward to resolve the crisis.
On November 11, 2023, another draft resolution was tabled in the UNGA on the Israeli settlements in the occupied territories including West Bank and Golan Heights. India has condemned the Israeli settlements in the occupied territories and has, thus, voted in favour of the resolution.
From India’s point of view, the Hamas attack on Israel comes at a time when India has been deepening its engagement in West Asia involving Israel, Arab countries, the US and European countries. In September this year, during the G20 Leaders’ Summit held in New Delhi, countries like India, the US, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, France, Germany, Italy and the EU announced the formation of the India–Middle East–Europe Economic Corridor (IMEC). This is a large-scale economic and infrastructure project planned to connect India, West Asia and Europe via land and sea routes.
Israel’s relationship with the Arab countries has also been getting closer since the signing of the Abraham Accords in September 2020 when the UAE and Bahrain signed normalisation agreements with Israel. In recent months, Israel and Saudi Arabia were also negotiating to normalise their relationship which could have been a game changer in regional politics. However, the Hamas attack on Israel has temporarily halted the Saudi-Israeli talks.
The growing Arab-Israeli relationship was proving not only to be economically beneficial for both but also carries the potential to change the regional power dynamics in West Asia. Since the signing of the Abraham Accords, India has joined hands together with Israel, the UAE and the US to form the minilateral I2U2. The I2U2 has identified some important issues including economic and technological cooperation, food energy and water security issues which are crucial for all these countries. The Hamas attack on Israel on October 7 has not only slowed the momentum of the growing Israel-Arab relations but also affected India’s engagement with the West Asian region.
(The author is a Research Fellow at the Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies & Analyses, New Delhi. Views expressed are his own.)