INDIA AS A MEDIATOR IN ISRAEL-PALESTINE CONFLICT

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What is the conflict all about?

Prologue

The incessant war between Israel and Palestine has now become a century long altercation, not being brought to a peaceful halt. The dispute dates back to the period when the colonial powers led the annihilation of the Ottoman Empire and quelled the then Arab world. During the same time set, Zionism had already emerged as a global opinion and leaders throughout the world were deliberating on establishing a Jewish homeland.

With the Balfour Declaration of 1917, the British promise for a “Jewish National home” on the Arab land, had become a controversy.[1] The news travelled to Western Europe, wherein Jews were already a subject to widespread persecution and Anti-Semitic practices, thus providing them with a hope of survival. Ergo, the Middle East saw an increase in the Jewish immigration, leading to military uprisings and mass protests by the Arab Palestinians. The clashes between Zionist military groups and Palestinians continued till United Nations came up with the Partition Plan for Palestine under Resolution 181, in 1947.

The Resolution propounded the establishment of an independent Arab state, an independent Jewish state now known as “Israel” and for the holy city of Jerusalem to be declared as ‘corpus separatum’. The year 1948 saw a vindictive war between the Zionist militia and stern gangs with the creation of the State of Israel, marking the “Battle for Jerusalem”.

The dispute was further worsened by the 1967 “six-day war” also known as ‘Naksa’. It saw Israel expanding its territorial claims by annexing large areas of West Bank and Gaza Strip, formerly claimed by Palestinians.[2] Nevertheless, quite a few secret agreements including Camp David and Oslo accords were signed between the warring parties in order to come to an interim settlement.

The inevitable war saw another big assault in 2014, when Israel launched “Operation Protective Edge” in Gaza, leading to extensive housing demolition, abduction of children and miserable condition of civilians. Even now, the conflict remains unsolved and in a bitter state. The questions that earlier arose on religious affiliations and ethnic cleansing are now centered on territorial dominance.

How does India come into picture?

Diplomatic Victory

India turns out to be the most plausible and feasible mediocre state than can bring this conflict to a peaceful end. The country shares an amicable relationship with Israel as well as the Palestinian authorities, therefore, can bring both the parties at the table of negotiations. India was amongst those majority nation states that came forward to recognize Israel as an independent State in 1950s. India and Israel established full diplomatic relations on July, 29, 1992. Since then, the States have accelerated their bilateral relations rapidly with mutual acquaintance through the subsequent visits of diplomats and signing various agreements and treaties as Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA) and Free Trade Agreement (FDA). The trade which was initially centered at defence and agriculture has now turned out as an enduring hi-tech partnership. Rapid growth has been seen across broad spectrum of areas including textiles, investment, pharmaceuticals, culture and education.[3] In addition, India has proved its credibility and affinity via personal relations. It has shown the lowest statistics when it comes to the persecution of jews which has been highly appreciated by Israel and has strengthened their association. There are approximately 85000 Indian Jews living in Israel, considering the strong cultural connections the States share.[4]

Talking about the Indo-Palestine relations, India became the first Non-Arab State to recognize Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) as the sole and legitimate representative of the Palestinian people. In 1988, India became one of the first countries to recognize the Palestinian State. It has been vigorously extending support for the Palestinian cause across various multilateral forums. India co-sponsored the draft resolution on “the right of Palestinians to self-determination” during the 53rd session of the United Nations General Assembly and voted in favour of it. In 2011, India voted in favour of Palestine becoming a full member of the UNESCO. India even voted in favour of Palestine becoming a ‘non-member Observer state’ at the UN, without voting rights, in 2012.[5] Not only this, there have been high level regular bilateral visits between India and Palestine as recently as 2018, wherein Prime Minister Narendra Modi paid an historic first-ever visit to the country. India has also proved to be helpful in extending economic aid to the latter, by constructing vocational centres, digital learning and technology parks, historic libraries in the city of Gaza, Hebron and other areas under Palestinian Authorities.[6] Therefore, India’s foreign policy is reflective of its support for the Palestinian cause.

It becomes complacent that India throughout the past two decades has mended and further boosted its position in International Politics. It’s likely that the disputants/ warring parties will voluntarily engage themselves in the peacemaking process, if India acts as a mediator.

Bound by Legal Obligation

A legal obligation is the one created from time to time by any enactment or authority in charge. Considering India, Article 51 of the Constitution of India talks about promotion of international peace and security and its clause (d) further encourages settlement of international disputes by arbitration. However, often in place of arbitration other simplified means are preferred. The UN Charter too suggests various means like negotiation, enquiry, mediation, conciliation, judicial settlement, resort to regional agencies or arrangements, or other peaceful means. Ergo, the Constitutional provision makes the country duty-bound towards the other nations.

Article 13 of the UN Charter empowers the United Nations General Assembly to make recommendations for the purpose of promoting international cooperation in the political, economic and cultural fields for the development of International law and realization of human rights and fundamental freedoms without distinction based on race, language, religion or sex. [7]

In the current conflict, UNGA can make a recommendation to India for acting as a catalyst and initiating the peace process between the warring States. Such a responsibility is delegated in the light of achieving international tranquility and to abate the human rights violation in the Middle East.

Further, Chapter IX of the UN Charter obligates the UNGA to suggest to the members for cooperation or create agencies or affiliate with certain international organizations to meet the purposes of Article 55.[8]

Consequently, in cognizance of the given matter, UN established a Committee on Exercise of inalienable rights of Palestinian People in 1975. Its objective was to formulate a programme that would enable the Palestinian people to exercise their right to[9]:

  • Self-determination
  • National independence
  • Sovereignty
  • Right of Palestinian refugees to return

Recently, in March, this agency has approached India to seek diplomatic support for a peaceful resolution to the long-standing conflict between Israel and Palestine. Hence, it becomes imperative for India to act within its obligations and mediate the dispute as an adept and responsible member State of the United Nations.

Third Party Mediation of Inter-State Conflict

Inter-state conflicts often jeopardize international peace and security. They are driven by a range of issues including territory, ideological disparity, security, ethnicity etc. Israel and Palestine have emerged out of a brutal ethnic cleansing which dragged on to become a distressful territorial dispute. The conflict revolves around an anarchic environment wherein both the adversaries want to guard their interests and sovereignty, jealously.

Why mediation as a peacemaking process?

Chapter VI of the UN Charter talks about pacific settlement of disputes. Article 33, specifically enlists various forms of non-violent conflict management processes including[10]:

  • Negotiation
  • Enquiry
  • Mediation
  • Arbitration
  • Conciliation
  • Judicial Settlement

The renowned U.S scholar, Sacvan Bercovitch has defined Mediaiton as a process of conflict management wherein the disputants or their representatives take external assistance from individual, group, organization, which further acts as a third party, to influence their behavior, without invoking physical force or authority of law.[11]

Mediation is often a viable option to end prolonged violent disputes wherein the belligerents have exhausted their military force, costs and all other efforts have reached an impasse. More importantly, both the parties voluntarily want to engage in direct/ indirect dialogue and are prepared to accept external help. Statistically, regional frequencies of inter-state mediation remain highest in Middle East at 33.6%.

Key strategies for India as a mediator

For a successful mediation, the mediator should take into account the dynamics, causes of the conflict, positions, interest and coherence of parties. In order to achieve true commitment of parties towards the peace process, he/she needs to be well-informed and impartial in their approach. Certain fundamentals must be kept in mind[12]:

  • Preparedness
  • Consent
  • Impartiality
  • Inclusivity
  • National Ownership
  • Coherence and coordination
  • Durable Outcome

The most important factor that largely influences a peaceful agreement is ‘consent’ of the parties. It calls for integrity of the process, confidentiality, security and adherence to the interests of the parties in political, military and psychological sphere. Another important aspect is ‘bias/impartiality’, albeit, not to be confused with neutrality. The key to effective mediation is a strong communication strategy, in order to bring both the parties to talk at a common ground.

India having an eminent cultural tie with Israel doesn’t necessarily imply that it will be prejudiced against Palestine. Rather, the mediator bias’ can work positively as it engages talks between parties, helps in developing creative proposals and effects a peaceful settlement.

Moreover, India should follow a pragmatic approach, offering the parties an outcome that can benefit both, yet leading to ceasefire. India as a sovereign nation state must also keep in mind its own national interests but not let it influence the process as it might make the parties back out. Considering its dependence on Israel for major oil imports and cultural reasons, it cannot go against the State and the actions taken by it to secure its boundaries. Similarly, the status quo of the Palestinian refugees cannot be ignored and has to be given a voice. The Negotiations should restore the humanitarian rights of the refugees and help Palestine retain its sovereignty without interfering with the Jewish establishments.

Considering its dependence on Israel for major oil imports and cultural reasons, it cannot go against the State and the actions taken by it to secure its boundaries. Similarly, the status quo of the Palestinian refugees cannot be ignored and has to be given a voice. The Negotiations should restore the humanitarian rights of the refugees and help Palestine retain its sovereignty without interfering with the Jewish establishments.

  1. Timeline of Palestine’s History, Aljazeera (March 25th, 2020, 6:00pm), https://interactive.aljazeera.com/aje/palestineremix/timeline_main.html
  2. Id.
  3. India-Israel Relations, Ministry of External Affairs ( March 29th, 2020, 7:00pm), https://mea.gov.in/Portal/ForeignRelation/India-Israel_relations.pdf
  4. Id.
  5. India-Palestine Relations, Ministry of External Affairs ( March 29th, 2020, 7:30pm), https://mea.gov.in/Portal/ForeignRelation/Updated_Note_on_India-Palestine_Relations_for_MEA_Website.pdf
  6. Id.
  7. UN Charter article 13.
  8. UN Charter article 55.
  9. UNISPAL Report, https://www.un.org/unispal/document-source/committee-on-the-exercise-of-the-inalienable-rights-of-the-palestinian-people-ceirpp/.
  10. UN Charter article 33.
  11. Scott Sigmund Gartner, Third-Party Mediation of Interstate Conflicts: Actors, Strategies, Selection, and Bias, Arbitration Law Review, 269, 273 (2014).
  12. United Nations Guidance for Effective Mediation, https://www.c-r.org/resource/united-nations-guidance-effective-mediation.

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