July 19, 2018
Middle East

India’s muted response to Trump’s Jerusalem move stokes Arab unease

US President Donald Trump abruptly reversed decades of US policy this month when he recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital (Reuters)

A dozen Arab ambassadors have asked India to clarify its position on the US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, diplomatic sources said, after New Delhi’s muted response suggested a shift in support for the Palestinian cause.

US President Donald Trump abruptly reversed decades of US policy this month when he recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, generating outrage from Palestinians. Trump also plans to move the US embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv.

Countries around the world, including US allies Britain and France, criticised Trump’s decision, but India did not take sides.

Instead, the Indian foreign ministry in a brief statement said India’s position was consistent and independent of any third party.

The bland statement made no reference to Jerusalem and prompted criticism at home that it was insufficient, vague and anti-Palestinian.

Israel maintains that all of Jerusalem is its capital. Palestinians want East Jerusalem as the capital of a future independent state and say Trump’s move has left them marginalised and jeopardised any hopes of a two-state solution.

Last week, envoys from Arab states including Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Kuwait based in New Delhi met Indian Junior Foreign Minister MJ Akbar to brief the government about an Arab League meeting on 9 December condemning the US decision, a diplomatic and an Indian government source said.

The envoys also sought a more forthright Indian response, the sources said.

But Akbar gave no assurance and the Indian source said the government had no plans for a further articulation on Jerusalem, which is at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“Akbar did not promise anything,” the diplomatic source briefed on the meeting said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of diplomatic sensitivities.

India was one of the earliest and vocal champions of the Palestinian cause during the days it was leading the Non-Aligned Movement while it quietly pursued ties with Israel.

But under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, New Delhi has moved to a more open relationship with Israel, lifting the curtain on thriving military ties and also homeland security cooperation.

Modi’s Hindu nationalist ruling group views Israel and India as bound together in a common fight against Islamist militancy and long called for a public embrace of Israel.

Modi in July made a first trip to Israel by an Indian prime minister and did not go to Ramallah, the headquarters of the Palestinian Authority and a customary stop for leaders trying to maintain a balance in political ties.

PR Kumaraswamy, a leading Indian expert on ties with Israel at New Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University, said a “major shift” on India’s policy had been evident since early this year when Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas visited New Delhi.

“With the Palestinian president standing by his side, Prime Minister Modi reiterated India’s support for Palestinian statehood but carefully avoided any direct reference to East Jerusalem,” he said.

For decades, India’s support for a Palestinian state was accompanied by an explicit reference to East Jerusalem being the Palestinian capital. But Delhi has moved to a more balanced position, refusing to take sides in an explosive dispute, he said.

During the meeting last week, the ambassadors of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Somalia and the Palestinian Authority spoke, the diplomatic source said. Besides the dozen envoys there were charges d‘affaires from several other countries in the region.

“They were expecting more from India, perhaps to denounce Israel and the US,” said former Indian ambassador to Jordan Anil Trigunayat. “But would it really make a difference, adding one more voice?”

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