After openly backing Israel, the Indian government reiterates its support to its old policy on the Palestinian issue. As the Opposition pressures the Modi government on this issue, what are India’s options?
New Delhi/Tel Aviv/Ramallah
With the war between Israel and Hamas intensifying, Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke to the President of Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas on Thursday and expressed his condolences at the loss of lives at Al Ahli Hospital in Gaza. Modi also reaffirmed India’s commitment to provide the Palestinian people with humanitarian assistance while reiterating India’s long-standing principled position on the Israel-Palestine issue.
“Spoke to the President of the Palestinian Authority H.E. Mahmoud Abbas. Conveyed my condolences at the loss of civilian lives at the Al Ahli Hospital in Gaza. We will continue to send humanitarian assistance for the Palestinian people,” posted PM Modi on X.
PM Modi in his conversation with Abbas also expressed his concern at terrorism and violence amid the ongoing war and also reiterated India’s position on the issue. “Shared our deep concern at the terrorism, violence and deteriorating security situation in the region. Reiterated India’s long-standing principled position on the Israel-Palestine issue,” PM Modi’s post added.
India has also now clarified its position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Arindam Bagchi has said that India’s position concerning the Palestine issue has been “longstanding and consistent”. “India has always advocated the resumption of direct negotiations towards establishing a sovereign, independent and viable state of Palestine living within secure and recognized borders side by side at peace with Israel. That position remains the same,” he said.
Modi on Wednesday condoled the loss of lives in an explosion at a hospital in Gaza, saying he was “deeply shocked” by the incident. Expressing concern over the mounting civilian casualties in the ongoing Israel-Hamas conflict, the PM said that those behind such deaths should be “held responsible”.
Taking to his official handle on X, PM Modi posted, “Deeply shocked at the tragic loss of lives at the Al Ahli Hospital in Gaza. Our heartfelt condolences to the families of the victims, and prayers for speedy recovery of those injured. Civilian casualties in the ongoing conflict are a matter of serious and continuing concern. Those involved should be held responsible.”
An explosion at the hospital in Gaza City on Tuesday claimed the lives of hundreds of people.
As the Israel-Hamas war enters its second week, global protests over deadly strike at Gaza hospital continue with arrests of Jewish anti-war demonstrators reported inside US Congress. The Palestinian Mission to the UN in Geneva has denounced Israeli disinformation and propaganda after the deadly Gaza hospital explosion. At least 3,785 Palestinians killed in Israeli attacks on Gaza since Hamas’s October 7 attack inside Israel, which killed more than 1,400 people, CNN reported.
In India too, the Modi government is coming under pressure to take a more balanced and nuanced position than openly backing Israel. As the pressure grows, reacting to the opposition’s claim that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has taken a different stand on the Israel-Palestine issue, Union Minister Giriraj Singh clarified that the Prime Minister supports the Palestine issue but do not support “terrorists” like Hamas.
“PM Modi is also supporting Palestine but we do not support terrorists like Hamas,” Giriraj Singh said while speaking to reporters on Wednesday.
Earlier, addressing a gathering of party workers in Mumbai, National Congress Party (NCP) president Sharad Pawar said that while all former Prime Ministers of India have taken a firm stand supporting Palestine, Prime Minister Narendra Modi supported Israel in the ongoing Israel-Hamas conflict. In his reaction to Pawar’s statement on India changing its stand on the Israel-Palestine issue, Maharashtra Deputy Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis said that the country has never changed its position on this issue but has “always strongly opposed terrorism”.
“India has never changed its position on the Israel-Palestine dispute. However, at the same time, India has been consistently against and has always strongly opposed terrorism in any form and against anyone,” Fadnavis said in a post on ‘X’. Reminding the NCP chief of the Mumbai terror attacks, Fadnavis requested Pawar to rise above “vote bank politics” and “strongly condemn terrorism”.
“Mumbai has suffered a lot due to the terror attacks. Especially during 26/11, Mumbai had lost many citizens. My request to Sharad Pawar ji is to not think about vote bank politics, but to strongly condemn terrorism,” he said.
Meanwhile, amid the Israel-Palestine conflict, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi on Thursday called for the end of violence between the two countries. Taking to social media platform X, the AICC leader said that the killing of thousands of innocent civilians, including children in Gaza and the Hamas’ killing of innocent Israelis are crimes and must be condemned.
“The killing of thousands of innocent civilians, including children in Gaza and the collective punishment of millions of people by cutting off their food, water and electricity are crimes against humanity. Hamas’ killing of innocent Israelis and taking of hostages is a crime and must also be condemned,” Rahul Gandhi said in the post.
“The cycle of violence between Israel and Palestine must be brought to an end,” he added.
Also, Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) leader TKS Elangovan on Wednesday defended party MP A Raja in his statement on Israel-Hamas war and said that when a small country is put under pressure, naturally all non-aligned countries should support it. Following MP Raja’s statement urging to support oppressed in Israel-Hamas war, DMK leader TKS Elangovan said, “We had accepted Palestine when it was formed earlier, UN has accepted Palestine and India was one of the countries in the UN to support Palestine that was what he has told.”
“Even what he says is right when a small country is put into pressure, naturally all non-aligned countries should support that country maybe that is what he meant,” he added. DMK MP Raja earlier pointed out that India has always supported Palestine and emphasized that supporting the oppressed is the right thing to do.
“India has never supported Israel. We have supported Palestine only. Whichever country is being oppressed, we need to support that country only, that is the right thing to do. That is the policy of non-aligned countries,” A Raja said while speaking at an event in Chennai on Tuesday.
While BJP has criticized A Raja’s statement and called it “sad and shameful”.
“It is very sad, shocking and shameful. I am really astonished by the way A Raja has said. Israel has been our friend for more than 70 years now. No doubt we are friendly with Palestine also,” Tamil Nadu BJP vice president Narayanan Thirupathy said while speaking to ANI.
In a related development, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) on Thursday extended support to Palestine in the ongoing war between Hamas and Israel. While attending the meeting organized by the CPI(M) in support of Palestine, CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury said, “Palestine has been reduced to a minuscule. There are more Palestinians living outside Palestine than there are inside Palestine. Egypt has correctly said that we have no problem providing refuge to Palestinians, but once Israel succeeds in pushing them into the Sinai Peninsula, they will never allow Palestinians to go back.”
“The whole of the land will be taken by Israel. That is the conspiracy,” he said. Yechury also condemned the attacks and counter-attacks in the ongoing Israel-Palestine war. “Condemn these attacks & counter-attacks. UN must enforce a stop to this. UN must ensure the legitimate rights of the Palestinians, withdrawal of all Israeli illegal settlements & occupation of Palestinian lands & implement the 2 Nation State solution”, he said in a post on X.
CPI(M) State Secretary M V Govindan also expressed concern for the Palestinians. “Illegal immigration of Jews into Palestinian land is still happening. The Palestinians now hold only 13 per cent of the land which was earlier divided into a 60:40 ratio. This is being done with the full support of the Israeli government,” he said.
In a sign that there is growing anger in the country, some women in the Saidabad area of Hyderabad gathered at a Dargah ground to demonstrate solidarity with Palestine. “For 13 days, Israeli forces continue to shed Palestinian blood. They target old people, infants, masjids and schools. They have not left the hospitals. We want to ask where is security council, where are the well-wishers of the children’s. No one can see the blood of the people of Gaza. The culprits of this war are US President Joe Biden and Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu,” said one of the women supporters.
“We are standing here against the cruelty of Israel. We gathered at a Dargah ground to demonstrate solidarity with Palestine,” another women supporter said.
With India going to elections next year, no party wants to alienate the vast sections of the population who are sympathetic to the Palestinian cause. As the war continues in the Middle East, the Indian government will have to perform a difficult balancing act.