A lot has been written about the ‘yes’ vote of India in the United Nations General Assembly, which voted 128-9 with 35 abstentions, on a resolution that denounces the US decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
Most Right-wing pundits are very angry about the vote, and called PM Modi hypocritical, especially after the infamous Israel visit. Most of their argument rests on certain assumptions, but before I come to that, let me explain the logic of vote.
To understand the logic, first, we need to understand Jerusalem’s role in the so-called Israel-Palestine peace process. Jerusalem is a city which has holy sites for three religions of the world – Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. These holy sites are controlled by a complicated myriad of authorities, and the current status quo has been achieved via war and the subsequent peace processes. But the role of Jerusalem as a whole is still not clear.
While Israel controls almost all of Jerusalem (Israel partly controls East-Jerusalem which is considered occupied territory by the international community), the Palestinians want to officially divide the city and make East Jerusalem the capital of a future Palestinian state. That is why no country currently has an embassy in Jerusalem. None of the countries that have consulates in Jerusalem recognize Israeli sovereignty over the city. Consequently, their official embassies remain in Tel Aviv. Their consulates in Jerusalem are, almost uniquely, accredited to no state.
The move was not because of a peace process, where the US offers a concession to Israel, in return for Israel offering to stop any settlement construction. It was a unilateral decision.
Though President Trump claims to be a deal maker, this on the face of it, seems like a bad deal. But this decision was taken primarily to satisfy evangelical base of Donald Trump, who believe that the second coming of Christ will be in Jerusalem and Israel should be in control when that happens. This clearly, is a move to satisfy the powerful. So the intent itself is not quite noble.
Consider this, the President of the United States is willing to play politics with complex international disputes just to stabilize his tanking approval ratings.
On the face, it seems like an anti-Israel vote, but it isn’t. It is primarily an anti-US vote. President Trump wants to be a disrupter, and this vote signifies that the international community, at large, will not make it easy for him to do so, just because there are some explicit threats and an after party.
This is not the way international diplomacy works, and Trump should be made aware of that. He can’t just come in and do whatever he wants without consulting his allies. I was expecting at least the UK to abstain in this, but the UK also voted in favour of the resolution, condemning the US. Canada, which has more to lose considering that the NAFTA renegotiations are on, called in abstention reportedly after explicit threats by the US ambassador to UN.
India should continue to maintain strong diplomatic, trade and scientific ties with Israel. But historically, India has been a strong supporter of the Palestinian cause. Many have said that because the organization for Islamic Cooperation (of which Palestine is a member) regularly adopts anti-India resolutions, we need to vote against Palestinian interests in the UN. They, in my opinion, have fundamentally misunderstood the vote. The vote was not about Palestine or Israel. It was about the United States.
Israel won’t ignore India’s vote. But that isn’t the problem. India has always voted for most of the pro-Palestinian resolutions. But even today, Israel and India’s representatives strive to improve relations in every field. The de-hyphenation, as it were, of Israel Palestine happened after Modi’s Israel visit, where he left without meeting the Palestinian leaders. But the de-hyphenation does not mean that India will go against Palestine or become pro-Israel. It means the ability of India to act, for the support of Palestine, without it affecting our relations with Israel.
In fact, PM Modi explicitly said, “We remain engaged with all our partners, including Israel, in finding optimal outcomes at the UN and other multilateral fora that reflect our commonly shared priorities and concerns. India is not in favour of singling out any country at the UN.”
It is also important to realise that the US won’t ignore India’s vote. It doesn’t matter whether the US or especially President Trump ignores India’s vote, simply because he is not capable of throwing a temper tantrum on India (at least not publicly), as there are 127 other countries which voted for the resolution.
Finally, India wants to be on the UNSC, and a country cannot get to the UNSC by voting in abstention, especially after explicit threats by the US. That simply will decrease India’s stature as an independent power. This is the fundamental problem India faces. While it would like to be in the Security Council, it also wants to be away from contentious issues. This cannot be simultaneously possible.
Therefore, in my opinion, this was the right choice by the Modi government, and it should stand by its decision.