India And Israel Share The Dubious Honour Of Maintaining Bad Relations With Neighbours

By Bhupinder Singh Liddar

India celebrates 70th anniversary of independence on August 15, but it does not have much to celebrate when it comes to maintaining good relations with its neighbours. India and Israel hold the dubious record of maintaining bad relations with all their neighbours.

Israelis neighbours are: Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine and Syria. India’s neighbours are: Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, Myanmar, (Burma), Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka.

Both India and Israel had painful re-births as modern states in 1947. India experienced decimation of part of its territory to create a Muslim-majority Pakistan, whereas the creation of a Jewish state, Israel, displaced thousands of Palestinian Arabs. There was fierce fighting in both cases and disputes over lands linger on to this day. Both have fought full-fledged wars with their neighbours.

The founding prime ministers of both countries: Jawaharlal Nehru of India and David Ben Gurion of Israel, had vision of developing good neighbourly relations, but it all floundered.

In 1954, Indian Prime Minister Nehru and his Chinese counterpart Chou-en-lai signed the “Panchsheel” agreement pledging mutual respect for each other’s territorial integrity and sovereignty, mutual non-aggression, mutual non-interference in each other’s internal affairs, Equality and mutual benefit and peaceful coexistence. Israel’s first Prime Minister  David Ben Gurion on October 2, 1947 spoke of returning to “our native land…engulfed by Arabic-speaking people, mainly followers of Islam. Now, if ever, we must do more than make peace with them; we must achieve collaboration and alliance on equal terms.”

Egypt’s late President Anwar Sadat, in November 1977, did recognize Israel and established diplomatic relations with Israel as has Jordan. Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) recognized the State of Israel in 1993, but an independent State of Palestine, in West Bank and Gaza, remains elusive.

Furthermore, India and Israel harbor suspicion and paranoia of international organizations where both routinely come under attack from the Arab and Muslim countries: India for its handling of the Kashmir issue and Israel for its treatment of its Palestinian Arab citizens and its intransigence to establish a Palestinian State. They both shun any attempt by a third party to help negotiate a solution. Israel, which was established by a United Nations resolution, remains particularly hostile to that world organization, where criticism of it is constant and furious.

Ironically, it was United Nations Resolution 181 adopted on November 29, 1947 which partitioned British Mandate Palestine. It recommended creation of independent Arab and Jewish states and a Special International Regime for the City of Jerusalem, which is birthplace to prophets of Christians, Jews and Muslims. A Jewish state – Israel, was created the following year in May 1948, but no Arab (Palestinian) state has emerged, and the status of Jerusalem remains in dispute.

The reasons for India’s bad relations with its neighbours are more complex. It has distinct problem with each. It has a border dispute with China, water issues with Bangladesh, status of Kashmir with Pakistan, fishing rights and ethnic Tamil issues with Sri Lanka, allegations of interference in internal matters in Nepal. For a long time, India viewed suspiciously regional organizations such as seven–member state SAARC, (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation), an initiation of late President Zia-ur-Rehman of Bangladesh.  According to the UN resolution and as a two-state solution, the West Bank and Gaza are meant to be an independent Palestinian state, but de facto remain part of Israel.

One pays heavily for lack of good neighbourly relations, by massive spending on defence.

Indian and Israeli feature in top 15 spenders on defence budget in the world. In 2014, India spent $48 billion, while Israel’s defence budget was $18.6 billion. In 2016, India spent 2.5 percent of its GDP on defence, Israel 5.8 per cent, compared to 1.0 percent by Canada. These are resources diverted from essential services such as health, education, and other needy social programs in a country.

While Prime Minister Narendra Modi is actively pursuing policies aimed at building bridges with India’s neighbour, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu remains reticent. For instance Modi has invited all neighbouring countries’ heads of government to India’s Republic Day celebrations in January.

The road to having good neighbours, for Israel, lies in one simple step of establishing an independent State of Palestine, but for India it is a long and arduous road to create conditions enabling it to ultimately live in peace with its neighbours!

Bhupinder S. Liddar is a retired Canadian diplomat and former editor of “Diplomat & International Canada” magazine.



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