The Platform


India has taken a unique approach to the Middle East.

As the Israel-Palestine conflict persists, India’s distinctive dehyphenation policy emerges, advocating for the valuation of independent relationships with Israelis and Palestinians based on their own merits. This approach is vividly reflected in India’s recent articulations at the UN Security Council, where it emphatically underscored the necessity for resuming direct dialogue and de-escalating the prevailing tensions.

India’s contemporary diplomatic posture towards this enduring crisis invites scrutiny and debate. Rooted in a unique historical narrative, India’s approach gains significance against the evolving landscape of global multilateralism. Historically an advocate for the Palestinian cause, evident in its opposition to the United Nations’ proposed two-state solution, India’s 1980 recognition of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) as a diplomatic entity, and its vocal opposition to Israel’s construction of a barrier along the West Bank in 2003, epitomize its stance.

Additionally, India’s steadfast commitment to a diplomatic “balancing act,” entrenched in pragmatic non-alignment, has become increasingly influential in its foreign policy. This approach, further accentuated by substantial Israeli cooperation, underscores the imperative for a nuanced understanding and application of humanitarian law in international relations.

Arindam Bagchi, an Indian diplomat, highlights India’s role in addressing global cross-border terrorism, advocating for multilateral dialogue at international forums as a potential pathway to ease escalating tensions. India’s image as a “global moderator” is integral to its credibility, influencing its stance in proxy conflicts throughout the Middle East. This role reflects India’s reliance on foreign energy sources and its broader ambition to stabilize economic, strategic, institutional, and people-to-people connections in the Middle East.

A shift from India’s historically pro-Palestine stance to a more neutral position is currently observable. Its approach to the Israel-Palestine conflict is characterized by a delicate balancing act: on the one hand, maintaining robust historical and cultural connections with the Palestinian people and supporting their aspirations for self-determination and statehood; on the other, fostering a deepening relationship with Israel, particularly in defense, agriculture, technology, and trade.

India’s longstanding engagement with the conflict traces back to its own anti-colonial and anti-apartheid struggles. As a founding member of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) in 1961, India vocally supported Palestinian self-determination, a stance reinforced by its 1988 recognition of Palestine as a state. Concurrently, India initiated closer ties with Israel, particularly in the defense and security realms. The 1990s witnessed the formation of bilateral defense and intelligence-sharing agreements, alongside counterterrorism initiatives between the two nations.

The Modi administration, however, has not only accelerated these established areas of collaboration but also fostered a growing ideological affinity with Zionism and the concept of Israel as an exclusivist Jewish state. As noted by Prof. Achin Vanaik of the University of Delhi, this affinity reflects the admiration of India’s current leaders, proponents of Hindutva, for Israel’s military prowess and its role as a regional power.

This perspective sheds light on Israel’s security dynamics, characterized by a deeply ingrained sense of vulnerability despite its nuclear arsenal and support from the United States. This sense of besiegement, fostered by mandatory military conscription, cements Israel’s identity as a garrison state, often described as “an army with a nation.”

India’s historical connections with Middle Eastern nations, including Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Iran, are underscored by economic and energy interests, as well as a significant Indian diaspora in these regions. However, India’s internal policies, especially regarding Kashmir, have occasionally complicated its relations with these nations. The 2019 decision to revoke Jammu and Kashmir’s special status and subsequent centralization measures elicited concerns from several Muslim-majority nations, with Pakistan attempting to internationalize the issue.

In recent years, India has endeavored to repair and strengthen its ties with the Muslim world, as evidenced by heightened diplomatic outreach and strategic partnerships. These efforts encompass increased high-level visits and a focus on areas of mutual interest, showcasing India’s commitment to fostering constructive relationships with Muslim-majority nations in the Middle East, Southeast Asia, and Africa.

The ongoing Israel-Palestine conflict holds significant implications for India. With $1.2 billion in military exports and technology cooperation from Israel in 2022, its defense sector may face challenges if Israel prioritizes internal security. Additionally, as a major importer of Middle Eastern oil, any escalation in the region could directly impact India’s economy. The conflict also poses an obstacle to India’s ambitious plans for the India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor, aimed at integrating trade with Europe.

India’s position in the global order, bolstered by its growing influence in multilateralism, enables it to play a constructive role in fostering diplomacy and dialogue between the conflicting parties. By leveraging its soft power, India could encourage cultural exchanges, academic dialogues, and youth engagement to promote trust and understanding in the region.

Despite the complexities and occasional strains in India’s relationships with Muslim nations, there are significant opportunities for collaboration and mutual benefit. As a major regional power with a diverse and pluralistic society, India is strategically positioned to maintain positive and constructive relations with the Muslim world. Addressing domestic policy concerns and engaging in dialogues on shared challenges, India has the potential to build strong and enduring partnerships within the Muslim world.

Ainesh Dey is an incoming freshman at St. Xavier’s College, Kolkata. Ainesh's interests include diplomacy, foreign policy, advocacy and regulatory affairs in light of a rapidly changing sequence of events and a dramatic shift in the geopolitical equilibrium.

Diksha Gupta is a sophomore at Miranda House, University of Delhi, India who is currently pursuing Economics. Her interests include international relations, and trade to developmental economics.