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  Opinion   Columnists  15 Oct 2023  Pavan K. Varma | Stand with Israel, but fair deal key to lasting peace

Pavan K. Varma | Stand with Israel, but fair deal key to lasting peace

The writer, an author, former diplomat and is in politics.
Published : Oct 15, 2023, 1:14 am IST
Updated : Oct 15, 2023, 1:14 am IST

India did the right thing to condemn this terrorist attack. We are against terrorism of all kinds anywhere in the world

People demonstrate during a pro-Palestine rally. (AFP)
 People demonstrate during a pro-Palestine rally. (AFP)

David Bohm (1917-1992), the legendary quantum scientist and physicist, gave a dramatic illustration of how the same reality can appear materially different depending on the angle that you see it from. He gives the example of a rectangular fish tank full of fish under observation by two television cameras at right angles to each other. Although the fish tank is the same, the images of the cameras will project a truth that is variance with each other.

This analogy is useful to try and understand the radically different appraisals of the current Israel-Hamas conflagration. First, there can be no hesitation in emphatically condemning the October 7 terrorist attack by Hamas on innocent Israelis at a music festival, killing over 260 people, and taking dozens as captives. The simultaneous attack by an arsenal of bombs on Israeli civilian and military targets left thousands dead or wounded. Hamas is an avowedly terrorist organisation, operating out of the Israeli-occupied Gaza Strip, and its brutality and barbarism are appalling.

India did the right thing to condemn this terrorist attack. We are against terrorism of all kinds anywhere in the world. Our ties with Israel are strategic and close, including in the sensitive defense and intelligence sectors. Every country is guided by national self-interest. India followed this dictum when PM Modi expressed our unreserved support for Israel.

But even where our self-interest is involved, a different perspective emerges from Bohm’s second camera filming the same situation. The Jews suffered the Holocaust in Hitler’s Germany, and antisemitism was rife in some other European countries, but their “promised homeland” was created not in Europe, but as per the UN adopted Britain Partition Resolution to create Israel in 1948, in a messy division of territory in historical Palestine.

In the six-day war of 1967, Israel took over whatever was left of Palestinian territory, occupying the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) and the Gaza Strip. After the war, the United Nations in its Resolution 242 called for “a just and lasting peace in the Middle East”. The first step to ensure this, the Resolution stated, was “the withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied during the recent conflict”. Israel failed to fully comply with this requirement. On the contrary, it aggressively expanded Israeli settlements in the occupied territories. Today there are around 750,000 settlers in 250 settlements in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem. Moreover, Israel has bombed Gaza, from where the Hamas operates, in 2008, 2012, 2014 and 2021, killing thousands of innocent Palestinians, mostly civilians. None of this created anything like the outraged media blitz we are seeing after the deplorable Hamas attack. Six million Palestinian refugees now live in refugee camps in the neighbouring countries of Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Egypt.

The narrative of history is tangled, and not always fair or impartial. Israel, as a State, has the right to exist, and ensure its security. But the case of the Palestinians, in all fairness, cannot be ignored. The Oslo Peace Process of 1993, based on the Camp David Accords of 1978, gave limited recognition to the Palestinians, but hawkish leaders like Netanyahu even then sabotaged the agreed acceptance of “two nations”, by refusing to fully withdraw Israeli forces from the Occupied Territories, and dismantle the illegal Jewish settlements there. Israel’s policy of unilaterism rather than sincere conflict resolution derailed the entire peace process, and after the failed Camp David Summit of 2000 which tried to revive the peace process, things went back to square one.

One key advantage in all of this was — and is — that Israel has the unstinted backing of the United States, which has eight million influential Jews accounting for 2.4 per cent of the population. No American administration can afford to alienate such a powerful lobby. Israel is the recipient of the latest US weapons, and financial support from the large and wealthy Jewish diaspora in America. Through the Abraham Accords of September 2020, the USA midwifed agreements between Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, with Saudi Arabia waiting in the wings. The intention was clear: To create a strategic rapprochement between Israel and the Arab world, bypassing the plight of the Palestinians.

The massive retaliation against Hamas by the current Israeli government led by PM Benjamin Netanyahu, a fragile coalition heavily influenced by hardline right wing Jewish parties, has already pulverised Gaza killing thousands, but the UN or the world community at large has not called for an immediate ceasefire. Hamas terrorism is condemnable, but the continuing ferocity of Israeli retaliation is also inhuman. Gaza has been blockaded, and is without food, water, electricity and fuel, with thousands rendered homeless. Through such draconian responses, understandable in the desire for vengeance within Israel to destroy a jaw for a tooth and both eyes in return for one, Palestinians may be punished, but terrorism is bound to raise its ugly head again, and enduring peace will not come. The first priority then must be to stop the war.

There are two major unfinished projects for lasting peace in the world today. The first is the incomplete new architecture of security in Europe after the end of the Cold War, which has, due to continued Nato expansionism in spite of specific assurances given to Russia, led directly or indirectly, to the Russia-Ukrainian war. The second — and much older issue — is that of Israel and Palestine. India has on this occasion expressed its solidarity with Israel, and rightly so given the Isis-like inhumanity of Hamas, and our opposition to terrorism of any kind. But in the long run, it would also be in our self-interest, keeping our consistent policy in the past, and the need to keep Arab sentiments in mind — especially now when Indo-Arab relations have greatly improved — to stress the need for “a just and lasting peace”, as the UN had asked for, and Israel has refused to comply with.


Tags: israel-palestine conflict, hamas militant