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Question: What is Gaza conflict all about? What is India’s position on the issue and how does it affect India’s interest?

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  • Rajeev Agarwal replies: The current conflict in Gaza has its immediate roots in the kidnapping and killing of the three Israeli teenagers on June 12, 2014. Israel promptly blamed the Hamas which denied any responsibility for it. The bodies of the three teenagers were finally found on June 30 in West Bank. Infuriated, some Israeli citizens caught and killed a Palestinian teenager on July 02. Israel, on its part, intensified its crackdown on the Hamas leadership and conducted strikes over the Hamas targets. By July 07, there was increase in attack from Gaza into Israel too. Israel decided to formally launch an offensive in Gaza on July 08, code-named Operation Protective Edge, commencing with air strikes and artillery shelling. On the night of July 17, Israel moved the offensive into a higher gear by moving in troops into Gaza and launching a ground offensive.

    While the immediate cause has been stated above, the primary causes of the conflict could however be debated. One of the primary reasons could also be the failed peace talks which ended abruptly in April this year, when Israel broke off from the talks once Hamas and Fatah announced the formation of a unity government. The unity government, which finally came about on June 02, was viewed as a potential threat by Israel as it not only strengthened the intra-Palestinian unity but also lead to increased calls for a separate Palestinian state.

    India's Stand
    India has to maintain a very delicate balance between the two. The statement from the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) issued on July 10, as well as the Sixth BRICS Summit Declaration issued on July 15, clearly spelled out India's stand. The MEA, primarily commenting on the immediate outbreak of the conflict, had stated:

    “India is deeply concerned at the steep escalation of violence between Israel and Palestine, particularly, heavy air strikes in Gaza, resulting in tragic loss of civilian lives and heavy damage to property. At the same time, India is alarmed at the cross-border provocations resulting from rocket attacks against targets in parts of Israel. India calls upon both sides to exercise maximum restraint and avoid taking actions that may further exacerbate the situation, and threaten the peace and security of the region.”

    The Sixth BRICS Summit Declaration, while focussing on core issues of the prolonged conflict, had stated:

    “We call upon Israel and Palestine to resume negotiations leading to a two-State solution with a contiguous and economically viable Palestinian State existing side by side in peace with Israel, within mutually agreed and internationally recognized borders based on the 4 June 1967 lines, with East Jerusalem as its capital. We oppose the continuous construction and expansion of settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories by the Israeli Government, which violates international law, gravely undermines peace efforts and threatens the viability of the two-State solution.”

    As stated earlier, the challenge for India thus lie in balancing, on the one hand, its traditional diplomatic engagement with West Asia, of which the Palestinian issue is an integral part and which has an emotional appeal at the domestic level too and, on the other, an emerging bilateral engagement with Israel which has significant “national security imperatives” due to ongoing cooperation in hi-tech defence technology.

    For further analysis, please refer to my following publications:

    Israel’s Ground Offensive in Gaza: A Case of Misplaced Objectives?”, Geopolitical Monitor, July 21, 2014.

    Gaza conflict and India: Not a zero sum game”, South Asia Monitor, July 24, 2014.

    (Question asked by Chinmaya Urs, Anoop Suri & Ashish Khokhar)

    Posted on August 08, 2014