Explained: The Israel-Palestine Conflict and South Asian Diplomacy

South Asian countries have historically viewed the Israel-Palestine conflict as a symptom of British interference. More recently, they balance economic ties with Israel, while supporting the Palestinian cause.

Poulomi Das

May 17, 2021

 Explained: The Israel-Palestine Conflict and South Asian Diplomacy
Yasser Arafat, President of the Palestine Liberation Organization, with Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in 1980 (Alamy)

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is witnessing its worst flare-up in years. During the final week of Ramadan, the Israeli police entered the Al-Aqsa mosque compound and fired rubber bullets and stun grenades at Palestinian youth. The site is considered holy for both Jews and Muslims. Since mid-April, dozens of Palestinians have been injured. Although the larger Israeli-Palestine conflict is at least 100 years old, tensions have recently flared in part due to an impending Israeli Supreme Court decision on whether six Palestinian families should be evicted from their homes in the disputed East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah. In the meantime, the evictions have been delayed as the court deferred its ruling by 30 days. 

Last week, the fighting became deadly: Hamas, the Gaza-ruling Palestinian extremist group, fired hundreds of rockets on Israel, and Israel Defense Forces launched airstrikes on Gaza, where about 2 million Palestinians have been living since 2007, when Hamas came to power. On May 12, the situation became so dire that the United Nations warned that the violence could “escalate towards a full scale war.” At least 192 Palestinians have died, and 1,000 have been wounded; the death count in Israel stood at 10, which included an Indian nurse.

As nations around the world speak up on the conflict, South Asian countries, too, have weighed in — often balancing trade relations and economic ties with Israel, while supporting a two-state solution and the Palestinian cause. Rebecca Zeffert, founder of the Israel-Asia Center in Jerusalem, noted that in recent years, one can “see a clear acknowledgment from both the public and private sectors in Israel of the strategic importance that Asia holds, both politically and economically.” That said, South Asia’s diplomatic relationship with Palestine has historically been defined by the 1917 Balfour Declaration, in which Britain declared support for establishing a “national home for the Jewish people” in Palestine. Though expressing sympathy for the Jewish people, Indian nationalists in pre-partition India viewed the developments as another instance of British imperialism that pitted Jewish nationalists and Arabs against each other, and were resolutely pro-Palestine. Some South Asian countries have swayed from that position since.