Catalogue


India's Israel policy /
P.R. Kumaraswamy.
imprint
New York : Columbia University Press, c2010.
description
xii, 362 p.
ISBN
0231152043 (cloth : alk. paper), 9780231152044 (cloth : alk. paper)
format(s)
Book
Holdings
More Details
imprint
New York : Columbia University Press, c2010.
isbn
0231152043 (cloth : alk. paper)
9780231152044 (cloth : alk. paper)
contents note
Mahatma Gandhi and the Jewish National Home -- The Congress Party and the Yishuv -- The Islamic prism : the INC versus the Muslim league -- India, UNSCOP, and the partition of Palestine -- Recognition without relations -- Domestic politics -- International factors -- Nehru and the era of deterioration, 1947-1964 -- The years of hardened hostility, 1964-1984 -- Prelude to normalization -- Normalization and after.
catalogue key
7268505
 
Includes bibliographical references and index.
A Look Inside
First Chapter

Copyright information

Chapter 11: Prelude to Normalization

"The international situation has no doubt changed considerably but my gut feeling is that even if Indira Gandhi or Rajiv Gandhi were in office today, they would still be wearing blinkered glasses. In contrast [Prime Minister P. V. Narasimha] Rao, though an elder statesman, comes out as a refreshingly pragmatic and unorthodox politician. -- Joseph Leibler, co-chairman, World Jewish Congress

On January 29, 1992, India became the last major non-Arab and non-Islamic state to establish full diplomatic relations with Israel. While the final credit went to Prime Minister P. V. Narasimha Rao, much of the ground work was done by Rajiv Gandhi. During his tenure as prime minister between 1984 and 1989, Gandhi made a number of small but significant moves toward Israel, repaired some of the damages of the past, and started a process that eventually bore fruit a few years later. He approached the Middle East with an open mind and had a genuine desire to explore new avenues. His failure to take the process to its logical conclusion underscored not only the limitations of India's Israel policy but also Gandhi's own personality.

The 1980s saw Rajiv Gandhi's political baptism, ascent to the highest elected office in the country, electoral debacle, and brutal assassination. On October 30, 1984, literally hours after security guards assassinated his mother, Indira Gandhi, Rajiv was sworn in as India's youngest prime minister. Until that moment, he had never held any official position. He showed himself to be a different kind of politician. His absence of ideological orientation and refusal to see things within a narrow historical context were his greatest assets as well as his impediments. Notwithstanding limited political experience and acumen, he led the Congress Party to a spectacular victory in the December 1984 Lok Sabha elections. He secured an unprecedented four-fifths majority in parliament, a feat that eluded even his grandfather, Jawaharlal Nehru. Despite his limited exposure to international diplomacy—or because of it—he had a keen interest in foreign policy and traveled widely, met every major political leader in the world, took part in numerous conferences, and addressed a wide range of international gatherings.

Though he promised to tread a traditional path, the ideological rhetoric of the past had no attraction for the young leader. From the very beginning, Rajiv opted for modernization and carrying the country forward into the twenty-first century. Moving away from the socialist tradition of the Congress Party, he looked to liberalization as a key instrument in India's economic progress and prosperity. His commitment to technology and modernization endeared him to the West. His penchant for summits, accords, agreements, and other political adventures should be seen in this context. Indeed, his interest in foreign affairs continued even after he lost the election in 1989. During the Kuwait crisis he sought, for the first time in Indian history, to conduct a parallel foreign policy from the opposition ranks. Though the eventual results of his efforts were mixed and remain questionable at times, these initiatives highlighted his openness towards foreign policy. This fresh approach was also visible in his Israel policy. The younger Gandhi had the opportunity, desire, and, above all, a massive parliamentary mandate to approach the Middle East differently. And he did.

The prevailing international climate of the 1980s was favorable toward his style of governing. There was a substantial reduction in international tension, despite the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan and prolonged Iran-Iraq war. Even these two problems were showing signs of stalemate. Until the outbreak of the Palestinian intifada in December 1987, the overall climate in the Middle East was relatively favorable and less hostile toward Israel. For the first time in many years, the Jewish state was not seen as the root cause of regional instability. Around the same time, Mikhail Gorbachev arrived on the international scene and slowly heralded the end of the cold war, a move that immensely benefited Israel. The later half of the 1980s saw a renewal of low-level contacts between Israel and the countries of eastern Europe. The international media was rife with reports of Sino-Israeli military relations even while Beijing continued its public rhetoric against the Jewish state. The communist bloc that provided the ideological basis for Third World hostility gradually sought rapprochement with Israel. Notwithstanding the Camp David accords, Egypt was being admitted into the Arab League and the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC). This signaled an Arab and Islamic inclination toward a possible reconciliation with Israel. Within India's neighborhood, Sri Lanka showed that it was possible to cooperate with Israel even in the field of intelligence without inviting Arab retribution. These developments clearly underlined that if handled properly, ties with Israel would not evoke hostile reactions from the Middle East.

How did Rajiv Gandhi capitalize on these favorable circumstances? How much did he differ from his predecessors in dealing with Israel? What were the changes he introduced regarding Israel? How were they received both within and outside the country? Despite his intentions, why did he fail to carry the process forward and normalize relations with the Jewish state?

Improving Signs

Unlike his predecessors, Rajiv Gandhi openly met Israeli officials and U.S. groups promoting Israel's foreign-policy interests. While he avoided making any categorical statement in favor of normalization, his actions revealed a shift in Indian perceptions. The issue of normalization figured prominently in his discussions with leading American officials and was widely reported in the Indian media. There appears to be a link between these meetings and the gradual relaxation of India's position on Israel. Through these less visible gestures, Gandhi sent positive signals toward Israel.

Like many of his predecessors, Rajiv Gandhi was under considerable pressure from Jewish and pro-Israeli organizations in the United States over normalization. Since the late 1940s, Israel figured prominently in the Indo-U.S. dialogue, and during his tenure these pressures became more frequent and reasonably successful. While seeking to promote Israel's interests, its supporters in the United States did not hesitate to occasionally use pressure tactics against India. For example, partly to influence New Delhi's decision regarding the Davis Cup tennis tie with Israel, in May 1987 the influential Anti-Defamation League of B'nai Brith (ADL) brought out an indictment against India. Recalling a series of past incidents when India refused to grant visas to Israeli nationals and highlighting its "anti-Israel" statements and actions, the report warned that the international community should "let India know that unless it ceases to inject its anti-Israeli politics into events aimed at furthering the spirit of international cooperation, it will be forced to forfeit its frequent role as host nation." It also condemned India for its "frequent disregard for minimum standards of civility and law required among nations." This harsh report was followed by a move by the U.S. Congress to reduce aid to New Delhi from US$60 million to US$35 million.

On April 18, 1985, a few months after Rajiv Gandhi's electoral victory, the Israeli radio reported that the National Unity Government headed by Shimon Peres had asked a British Jewish businessman to explore the mood in New Delhi. A few months later, during the fortieth UN General Assembly session, Prime Minister Gandhi met Peres. This was probably the first meeting between the prime ministers of the two countries since 1948. Unlike similar high-profile encounters at the United Nations between Israeli and Chinese leaders, the Rajiv-Peres meeting did not lead to any dramatic changes. It was important simply because of the absence of such high-level contacts in the past. One small result of this meeting was that a few months later, Israel was able to post a regular vice-consul at Bombay. Ever since Yosef Hassin was declared persona non grata in 1982, India had refused Israeli requests to send a successor. According to one leading Indian commentator, this should have happened earlier but was delayed due "to obstruction by South Block [where the Indian Foreign Ministry is located] officials." Like the US State Department, the Indian foreign-policy establishment had its share of Arabists who were comfortable with the status quo.

A couple of years later, Rajiv Gandhi met a group of pro-Israeli leaders in New York. Before reaching American shores, Gandhi undertook a high-profile state visit to Syria, where he reiterated New Delhi's traditional commitment to the Arab position. Besides a long working meeting with President Hafez al-Assad of Syria, the Indian leader visited the ruins of Kuneitra, destroyed by Israel during the June war. Gandhi had a different agenda in New York. This "casual encounter," as it was depicted in the Indian media, was arranged by Congressman Stephen Solarz, a Democrat from New York City, the chairman of the House subcommittee on Asian and Pacific Affairs, and a champion of Indian issues in the U.S. Congress. Prominent among Gandhi's interlocutors during the June 8, 1988, meeting were Morris Abrams, the head of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, a powerful umbrella body of thirty-eight Jewish associations, and his deputy Malcolm Hoenlin. The question of diplomatic relations and the difficulties facing Israelis in securing Indian visas figured in the hour-long discussion.

The mood in Israel was upbeat, and a possible diplomatic breakthrough with India became a political battle between Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir and Foreign Minister Peres, the rival leaders of the National Unity Government. Hours after Gandhi met Solarz and his friends, the Israeli media quoted Peres as saying that the upgrading "was supposed to happen a week ago or something like that. Take another two weeks. History can wait for another two weeks." At the same time he cautioned by saying that "it will be a limited rise. By the way, we are not talking about a substantial rise." Interestingly, when this news was leaked, Gandhi was still in the United States, and the Indian foreign office did not know much about the meeting and its contents. There were no dramatic announcements, as some had wished. But before long, Amos Radian, the Israeli vice-consul in Bombay, was elevated to the pre-1982 position of consul. In early 1989, he was succeeded by Giora Becher, who became the first Israeli to be sent to Bombay as consul since 1982. Indian officials maintained that Gandhi's New York encounter and this elevation were "a pure coincidence." In the words of one official: "The decision was taken much earlier. The meeting with Jewish leaders in New York was a fait accompli and we could hardly say no."

In January 1989, India hosted two American groups that were working toward ending Israel's diplomatic isolation. A three-member ADL delegation and Congressman Solarz, who visited New Delhi, had a common agenda: normalization. While the ADL mission did not meet Prime Minister Gandhi, it met Foreign Minister Narasimha Rao and the ministry's joint secretary, P. K. Singh. Two members of the ADL delegation, Burton S. Levins and Abraham Foxman, were signatories to the 1987 ADL report that was highly critical of India's visa policy. Upon returning to the United States, the third member, Jesse N. Hordes, concluded that the "basic decision to change direction had already been made." At the same time he warned: "anything short of full diplomatic relations within a reasonably limited timeframe will constitute a great disappointment for Israel's friends." Shortly after the visit, the government of India instructed the state-government authorities in Maharashtra to invite the Israeli consul to all official functions. In the past, he was pointedly excluded from such occasions, which was a major embarrassment for Israel. The question of normalization figured prominently in the talks between Indian leaders and Solarz. Foreign Minister Narasimha Rao took the unprecedented step of briefing the U.S. visitors about the steps that India had taken in that direction, such as upgrading the consular mission in Bombay. Shortly before the visit, consular jurisdiction was extended to the southern Indian state of Kerala, which has a significant Jewish population.

Rajiv Gandhi's approach toward Israel was also influenced by shared security concerns over Pakistan, which was India's major preoccupation, especially during his tenure.

Since the early 1980s, security debates inside India were dominated by Pakistan's strategic ambitions and its clandestine nuclear-weapons program. Such concerns led to growing speculations of India following Israel's example and conducting an Osiraq-type preemptive strike against Pakistan's nuclear facility at Kahuta. Its leaders had dismissed such reports publicly as farfetched speculations. In an interview to Le Monde in June 1988, Rajiv was emphatic: "We try not to conduct ourselves as certain other countries do." When the same interviewer asked about normalization of diplomatic relations, he observed: "If Israel changes its attitude on a number of subjects, yes. But for the moment, we consider Israel to be very bellicose and oblivious to the problems it has created." Media speculation, however, did not die down. In July of that year, with the help of satellite photos supplied by the convicted U.S. spy Jonathan Jay Pollard, senior Israeli diplomats reportedly met Rajiv Gandhi's emissary in Paris. Both sides discussed the common threat posed by Pakistan's nuclear program. For operational and political considerations, Israel apparently sought India's active participation and cooperation. The air base in Jamnagar, near the Indo-Pakistani border, was mentioned as a possible refueling site. Quoting the former Israeli military intelligence chief Aharon Yariv, the Indian journalist Bharat Karnad disclosed that "several approaches [were made] over the years . . . to New Delhi, some predating the 1981 Israeli bombing of the Iraqi reactor near Baghdad, for assistance in hitting Pakistani nuclear installations."

Rajiv Gandhi's frequent references to Pakistan's nuclear program and some of his controversial statements added fuel to the preemptive-strike theory. For instance, addressing the officers of the National Defence College in October 1985, he warned: "We know and are fairly sure that the program has been financed not solely by Pakistan but also by other countries. Will this mean that the weapon will be available to these countries? How will these countries use the weapons?" A couple of years later, he again referred to external financial assistance for Pakistan's nuclear program. In early 1987, the Washington Times quoted him as saying that an Arab-funded Pakistani bomb would be Islamic and could be made available to Arab countries. Such accusations were not new. Since the late 1970s, various Indian and Western studies focused on the Islamic aspect of Pakistan's nuclear program. Fears were expressed over the possibility of Islamabad reciprocating Arab financial support by sharing its nuclear technology with the donors. Gandhi became the first and so far the only Indian leader to express such an apprehension in public. His concerns vis-à-vis Pakistan coincided with the commonly held view over the nonconventional ambitions of "irresponsible states," but his public remarks displeased the Arabs.

The much-hyped Osiraq-type attack against Pakistan never materialized. The Indian reluctance to join with Israel and pursue a military option against the Pakistani nuclear program was logical and inevitable. While it would gain certain tactical benefits, a preemptive strike against Islamabad's premier nuclear facility would have gone against India's larger interests. With vital national installations such as oil refineries, nuclear facilities, and other economic targets lying within the striking range of retaliatory air strikes by Pakistan, the long-term strategic benefits of an Osiraq-type operation were limited and indeed remain counterproductive. Any open collaboration with Israel on an aggressive defense policy was politically costly for India, especially when it lacked the type of superpower guarantees that Israel managed to secure following the Osiraq bombing. Interestingly, much of the speculation occurred against the backdrop of the December 1985 understanding between Rajiv Gandhi and President Zia ul-Haq of Pakistan, whereby both countries agreed not to target each other's nuclear installations. Delays in implementing this oral understanding partly contributed to the continued speculation.

However, the most visible manifestation of a shift in India's Israel policy manifested in the nonpolitical arena, especially sports. Rajiv Gandhi's decision to host the Davis Cup quarter-finals tennis match in July 1987 was the most crucial development that indicated a reappraisal of India's Israel policy. It was also the most controversial Indian decision since the incognito visit of Moshe Dayan in 1977, when the Janata government was in power. Lobbying in favor of the match, the Indian tennis star Vijay Amritraj vehemently argued that the tie against Israel "might be our last big chance to go some distance in Davis Cup." The likely punitive sanction from the International Tennis Federation was a major consideration.

Unlike the "ping-pong" diplomacy between China and the United States, the Davis Cup tennis tie did not mark any dramatic change in India's policy. It, however, generated a lively debate over the prolonged absence of diplomatic relations with Israel. Saner voices were heard not only over the depoliticization of sports but on the need to reevaluate India's policy. Until then, the negative publicity over the Israeli invasion of Lebanon and the Sabra-Shatila massacres prevented any meaningful debate over normalization. The Davis Cup atmosphere changed that. Senior figures such as C. Subramaniam, the former cabinet minister under Indira Gandhi, joined Israel's traditional supporters. He sought to break the popular tendency of linking Israel with apartheid South Africa and publicly asked: "[Do] we need to be more Arab than Egypt?" The issue dominated the front pages of Indian newspapers for well over four months. Rajiv Gandhi eventually gave the games the green light.

There were also noticeable changes in India's attitude regarding the granting of visas to Israeli passport holders. Thanks to dual passports, preventing Israelis from entering became a futile exercise. Even when tighter visa restrictions were in force, some Israeli diplomats managed to visit and tour India using their second passports. When the ADL highlighted some prominent cases where visas were denied, Rajiv Gandhi relaxed the procedures. The restrictions imposed upon Israelis of Indian origin were lifted, and the Israeli consulate in Bombay was authorized to coordinate the processing of their visa applications with the government of Maharashtra. During his tenure, individual and group tourists from Israel were given Indian visas. In the absence of representation in Israel, the task was given to Indian missions in New York and London, which processed the visa applications. Israeli participation in international conferences in India was allowed under certain conditions: the participation had to be in their individual capacity and not as the official representatives of Israel. Local organizers were encouraged to avoid publicity about Israeli participation. In practice, there was no uniformity. In October 1988, an Israeli was elected president of the International Hotel Association during its conference in New Delhi. Ironically, the conference was inaugurated by Rajiv Gandhi.

Bilateral trade also showed some improvement. Existing trade was dominated by a group of Indian diamond merchants based in the Tel Aviv suburb of Ramat Gan. They began operating in the late 1970s and emerged as the prime force behind trade in precious stones. This relatively unpublicized activity came into the open in 1986, when the Damascus-based Arab Boycott Office blacklisted twenty-nine Indian diamond firms for trading with Israel. Following Rajiv Gandhi's assassination in May 1991, the Indian diamond community in Israel issued a public advertisement in the Jerusalem Post mourning the tragic loss. It is also worth noting that in November 1988 the Manufactures Association of Israel and the All-India Association of Industries signed a cooperative agreement in Bombay.

Rajiv Gandhi's openness toward Israel was manifested in India's reaction to some of problems facing the Middle East.

At one level, the Indian leader was not eager to play any mediatory role in the Arab-Israeli conflict. On more than one occasion he expressed reluctance to get entangled in the Middle East cobweb. Dismissing any role in the peace process, in 1986 he candidly admitted: "There are already so many parties involved, we would not like to add one more hand in the complicated situation. We prefer to watch for a while and see how things turn out before actively trying to take an interest in it." At the same time, he was tacitly signaling the need for the Arabs to seek a negotiated settlement with Israel. In June 1985, few months after assuming office, Gandhi paid a state visit to Egypt and reaffirmed India's longstanding support for Arabs and the Palestinians. Since the early 1950s, Egypt had dominated India's Middle East policy and, during Nehru's times, even dictated India's agenda toward Israel. This bonhomie began to wane in the wake of the Arab debacle in the June 1967 war and the resurgence of conservative forces in the Middle East. Thus the timing of Rajiv Gandhi's visit to Cairo is interesting. Egypt had yet to recover from regional opposition to its peace with Israel. While it managed to stay within the NAM, thanks partly due to India, it still remained suspended from the Arab League and the OIC. Gandhi's visit to Egypt was a welcome relief to the beleaguered Egyptian leader, Hosni Mubarak, and an affirmative move in favor of the Camp David accords and peace with Israel. Signs of Indian moderation were visible toward the Palestinians as well. At one level, it strongly condemned Israeli air raids against the PLO headquarters in Tunis in 1985 as "aggressive and expansionist" and portrayed them as a "threat to peace and security." Simultaneously, it was not prepared to go along with the Arab states in expelling Israel from the United Nations. Likewise, even in the wake of the intifada and its decision to recognize the state of Palestine, India reiterated its commitment to Israel's right to exist in peace.

Despite these favorable signs and tentative steps, the overall transformation of the policy toward Israel eluded the Indian leader. While his moves eventually worked in favor of normalization, Rajiv Gandhi was unable to carry the course to its logical conclusion. There were factors that facilitated some tangible moves toward Israel. But there were also forces that worked in the opposite direction. These in turn prevented him from proceeding toward Israel. One can identify four closely linked impediments to normalizing relations with Israel.

Impediments to Normalization

The outbreak of the Palestinian intifada in December 1987 was a major deterrent against any Indian rapprochement toward Israel. The uprising eroded traditional support for the Jewish state even among liberal elements the world over and evoked universal condemnation. Benevolent or humane occupation ceased to be acceptable to the vast majority of international community, and the intifada reiterated the centrality of the Palestinian problem in Middle East politics. Given its historical disposition, India's sympathy and support for the Palestinians was inevitable. Another outcome of the intifada was the Algiers Declaration of November 15, 1988, in which the PLO declared its belated acceptance of the 1947 partition plan and proclaimed the "state of Palestine." India became one of the first countries to recognize the move and received PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat as a head of state. The intifada also influenced India's refusal to play the Davis Cup relegation playoff tennis match in Israel in April 1988.

In addition, a pro-Israeli policy remains unlikely to win elections in India. For economic, political, ideological, and religious reasons, a pro-Palestinian stance has a strong base of support. While communal calculations play a very important role, a pro-Palestinian policy enjoys widespread support in India. The same does not hold for a pro-Israeli policy. Support for closer ties with Israel comes from a variety of interest groups, such as pro-Western, anticommunist, Hindu and Sikh fundamentalists, anti-Muslim elements, socialists, idealists, or realists. Individually or collectively, none of these groups ever had sufficient influence to alter the policy. Domestic political dividends for normalization has always been marginal and unattractive. On the contrary, unless handled judiciously, the potential political fallout would be enormous for any political party or government. For the opposition groups, normalization was largely a political tool against the Congress Party. Since the days of the partition, the socialists, for example, periodically harped on the need for close ties with Israel, yet when they were in power from 1977 to 1979, they were unable to transform their demands into concrete policy.

Moreover, under Rajiv there was no parliamentary opposition. In the 1984 Lok Sabha elections, the pro-Israeli Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won just two seats in the 542-member parliament. The dogmatic Communists, who had won more seats, were never strong allies of Israel. The emerging third force, namely the Janata Dal under V. P. Singh (who subsequently became prime minister in 1989), was too eager to cultivate Muslim groups to adopt an overtly pro-Israeli stand. If Rajiv Gandhi was not prepared to take that step, there also was no opposition to force it.

Third, since the middle of 1987 Rajiv Gandhi had been embroiled in a multimillion dollar bribery scandal involving the Bofors Company, of Sweden. Much official attention and effort were diverted to countering charges that the prime minister and his close friends were involved. The allegation snowballed into a major controversy and resulted in a rapid erosion of Gandhi's popularity. Before long, the Congress Party started losing various crucial elections. With the next parliamentary elections around the corner, normalization with Israel would have definitely complicated the Congress Party's support base among Muslim voters. Partly with an eye on the election, in November 1989 India presented the Jawaharlal Nehru Award for International Understanding to Arafat.

Finally, Israeli involvement in Sri Lanka and its military-intelligence help to Colombo caused consternation and anxiety in New Delhi. Israel's involvement in the ethnic conflict was viewed negatively in India. The Sri Lankan civil war has serious ethnic and political ramifications in India, especially in the southern state of Tamil Nadu. India feared that Israeli involvement would only strengthen Colombo's drive for a military solution. As a result, under the July 1987 Indo--Sri Lankan accord, Gandhi and President J. R. Jayewardene of Sri Lanka agreed that both "will reach an early understanding about the relevance and employment of foreign military and intelligence personnel with a view to ensuring that such presence will not prejudice Indo--Sri Lankan relations." Israeli involvement in this ethnic crisis partially dampened Gandhi's desire to pursue closer ties with Israel.

New Delhi was also worried over Israel's interests in Fiji, especially in the wake of the 1987 military coup led by Col. Sitiveni Rabuka. Establishment of diplomatic relations with Israel was the first major decision taken by the coup leaders. Fiji provided an opening for Israel in the Pacific region, and Foreign Ministry Director General Avraham Tamir visited the island just before the coup. Rabuka not only overthrew a democratically elected government but also adopted an overtly racist stance regarding the ethnic Indian population of the island. When New Delhi was campaigning for international pressure for the restoration of democracy in Fiji, Israel was the first country to send an ambassador to the new regime. Under these circumstances, Israeli overtures in Fiji were seen as unpleasant developments. During this period, some leading media commentators also expressed concerns over possible cooperation between Israel and Pakistan. These developments considerably reduced the space for diplomatic maneuvers.

The Twilight Moments

Rajiv Gandhi attempted to take a new look at India's Israel policy and even took small steps in that direction. Though he had four different foreign ministers, he himself conducted the foreign policy. Unlike others, his government was more inclined to meet those who actively campaigned on behalf of Israel, and some of these contacts took place in India. He sought a modus vivendi with Israel and its supporters in the United States on issues such as Pakistani weapons proliferation. Even in 1989, a few months before the Lok Sabha elections, he allowed the Israeli consul to operate beyond Maharashtra. Israel was probably one of the few issues where progress was consistently made during Gandhi's tenure. But he could not take that giant leap to normalization.

Dogged by corruption charges, administrative inefficiency, and internal dissent, the November 1989 Lok Sabha elections witnessed an anti-INC wave, and Gandhi was voted out of office. The two minority governments that succeeded him headed by V. P. Singh and Chandra Shekhar were too preoccupied with their own political survival to make any far-reaching foreign-policy decisions, particularly on Israel. Moreover, Singh's electoral strategy was based on forging common cause with self-appointed Muslim leaders such the Shahi Imam of New Delhi's Jama Masjid. This strategy eliminated any hopes of normalization of relations with Israel. Confronted with growing instability, in the summer of 1991, President R. Venkataraman called for midterm Lok Sabha elections. While addressing an election meeting near the southern Indian city of Madras (now Chennai), Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated by a female suicide bomber belonging to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

As a result, Narasimha Rao, who did not even contest the parliamentary elections, emerged as the consensus candidate of the Congress Party and on June 21 was sworn in as India's prime minister. His tenure began on an ominous note. On June 27, less than week after he assumed office, Kashmiri militants killed an Israeli tourist and kidnapped another. This tested the official policy toward Israel, especially as Israelis became the victims of the ongoing militancy in Kashmir. Rao waived normal restrictions imposed upon the Bombay-based Israeli consul and offered full cooperation in resolving the unfolding situation. In an unprecedented gesture, he approved the visit of the senior Israeli diplomat Moshe Yegar to coordinate diplomatic efforts with Consul Giora Becher. During his brief visit, the director of the Asia Desk at the Israeli Foreign Ministry held talks with Junior Foreign Minister Eduardo Falerio and senior officials in New Delhi. He also spoke at the Institute for Defense Studies and Analyses (IDSA), the government-funded think tank. After days of hectic behind-the-scenes negotiations, the issue was amicably resolved with the release of the kidnapped Israeli tourist.

Soon after the Kashmir episode, the Indian media started what could be termed as a concerted campaign for normalization. Erstwhile critics of Israel began reexamining their earlier position. Spearheaded by the well-known strategic analyst--turned-academic C. Raja Mohan, the realists saw normalization within the context of the emerging post--cold war global order. There emerged a growing willingness to revisit some of the earlier justifications for the anti-Israeli policy. While pro-Palestinian elements continued to insist on taking the moral high ground and cited Mahatma Gandhi as justification, other critics of the status quo urged India to recognize and capitalize on the new Middle Eastern reality opened up by the Kuwait war and Madrid Peace Conference.

This time around, the Indian government was not far behind public opinion. If Yegar's July visit was presented as a "humanitarian gesture," India signaled a new policy shortly after the Madrid Conference. On December 16, 1991, it joined the majority in the United Nations and voted to repeal the notorious 1975 resolution that equated Zionism with racism. As India had been one of the original supporters of the resolution, this was a significant move. By taking this step, Rao exhibited India's determination to move away from the past. Engagement, not isolation, and constructive dialogue, not condemnation, became the new mantra. Even while professing to follow the policies of his predecessors, Rao signaled a new approach toward Israel. The UN vote was followed by a meeting between Indian and Israeli diplomats in Washington. In the second week of January 1992, the senior Israeli diplomat Yoseph Hadass met India's Deputy Chief of Mission Lalit Mansingh. This meeting in the Indian embassy was a precursor to normalization. The final confirmation came when Rao hosted Yasser Arafat in the third week of that month. Arafat's public statement that India could pursue a policy that served its national interests was interpreted as a sign that the Palestinians were coming to terms with the inevitable. But the traditionalists felt that India was snubbing the Palestinian leader. In their assessment, on December 18, a few days after the UN vote, the Palestinian leader had sought an audience with the Indian prime minister to register his "protest" over the Zionism vote.

"The President of the State of Palestine, who, in earlier times, visited this country more frequently than any other world leader, was in for a surprise this time. His visit kept getting postponed on flimsy pretexts -- that the Prime Minister was preoccupied with two foreign dignitaries and with the preparations for the Republic Day [which falls on January 26]. . . . What was more ironical probably was that while Arafat was having a difficult time in meeting the Indian Prime Minister, hectic efforts were on to facilitate the meeting of Indian and Israeli diplomats in the US. . . .

Finally, New Delhi took the initiative and gave a date which was not so suitable for the PLO leader as he was tied down by the out-going [ sic] West Asia peace negotiations. But still he had to make it in view of the far-reaching developments. The reception accorded to the visiting Palestinian dignitary was lackluster at the worst and make belief [ sic] warm at best."

In short, it was easier for them to admit and recognize Arafat's "busy schedule," but the same reason by the Indian prime minister was dismissed as an "excuse." However, in his elliptical way, Narasimha Rao set the stage for a radical departure from the past. Professing to continue on the path set by Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, and others, in January 1992 he irreversibly altered India's Israel policy.

...

COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Copyright © 2010 Columbia University Press. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form by any electronic or mechanical means (including photocopying, recording, or information storage and retrieval) without permission in writing from the publisher, except for reading and browsing via the World Wide Web. Users are not permitted to mount this file on any network servers. For more information, please e-mail us or visit the permissions page on our Web site.

Full Text Reviews
Appeared in Choice on 2011-02-01:
Kumaraswamy (Jawaharlal Nehru Univ., India) explains in detail why India delayed so long before normalizing relations with Israel. New Delhi recognized Israel de facto in 1950 but did not establish full relations until 1992. Kumaraswamy primarily blames domestic politics--mollifying India's Muslim minority--and only secondarily external factors such as solidarity with the Global South, winning Arab support, and competing with Pakistan. The Indian National Congress (INC), starting with the Khilafat movement just after WW I, tilted strongly pro-Muslim and stayed that way on the Palestine question, reaching an anti-Israel high point under Indira Gandhi. Kumaraswamy calls Indian "secularism" a flimsy, politically correct cover for domestic politics. Even Hindu nationalists like the Bharatiya Janata Party, although quietly pro-Israel, did not wish to arouse India's Muslims. Change started with Rajiv Gandhi (1984-89) but was completed by P. V. Narasimha Rao (1991-96), both of the INC. By 1992, the Cold War had ended, rendering nonalignment meaningless; the PLO discredited itself by supporting Saddam; several Arab states were dealing with Israel; and Pakistan had nuclear bombs. This thorough, scholarly study suggests that when the domestic polity is fractured, holding it together takes primacy in foreign policy. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Graduate and research collections. M. G. Roskin emeritus, Lycoming College
Reviews
Review Quotes
"P. R. Kumaraswamy unpacks one of India's most sensitive bilateral relations since its independence. While the relationship with Israel continues to generate intense political controversy, there is little awareness of its history or complexity within the Indian political classes and the foreign policy communities of India and elsewhere. By any measure, this volume is a definitive work on India's Israel policy, and no comparable account has been published." -- Raja Mahon, author of Crossing the Rubicon: The Shaping of India's New Foreign Policy
"P. R. Kumaraswamy's India's Israel Policyis the definitive book on the subject. It comes from the heart as well as the mind. The author's scholarship is impeccable. Kumaraswamy has earned the right to a little passion, but it does not cloud his judgment-and a reader that disagrees with some of his judgments will still find facts in this volume." -- Stephen P. Cohen, senior fellow, Brookings Institution
P. R. Kumaraswamy unpacks one of India's most sensitive bilateral relations since its independence. While the relationship with Israel continues to generate intense political controversy, there is little awareness of its history or complexity within the Indian political classes and the foreign policy communities of India and elsewhere. By any measure, this volume is a definitive work on India's Israel policy, and no comparable account has been published.
"P. R. Kumaraswamy unpacks one of India's most sensitive bilateral relations since its independence. While the relationship with Israel continues to generate intense political controversy, there is little awareness of its history or complexity within the Indian political classes and the foreign policy communities of India and elsewhere. By any measure, this volume is a definitive work on India's Israel policy, and no comparable account has been published." -- C. Raja Mohan, author of Crossing the Rubicon: The Shaping of India's New Foreign Policy
P. R. Kumaraswamy's India's Israel Policy is the definitive book on the subject. It comes from the heart as well as the mind. The author's scholarship is impeccable. Kumaraswamy has earned the right to a little passion, but it does not cloud his judgment-and a reader that disagrees with some of his judgments will still find facts in this volume.
"P. R. Kumaraswamy's India's Israel Policy is the definitive book on the subject. It comes from the heart as well as the mind. The author's scholarship is impeccable. Kumaraswamy has earned the right to a little passion, but it does not cloud his judgment-and a reader that disagrees with some of his judgments will still find facts in this volume." -- Stephen P. Cohen, senior fellow, Brookings Institution
This thorough, scholarly study suggests that when the domestic polity is fractured, holding it together takes primacy in foreign policy.... Highly recommended.
"P. R. Kumaraswamy's India's Israel Policyis the definitive book on the subject. It comes from the heart as well as the mind, and the author's scholarship is impeccable. Kumaraswamy has earned the right to a little passion, but it does not cloud his judgment& -and a reader that disagrees with some of his judgments will still find facts here." -- Stephen P. Cohen, senior fellow, Brookings Institution
Kumaraswamy's book is a well researched and thorough account of Indo-Israeli relations that is highly recommended for both academics and the general public.
This item was reviewed in:
Choice, February 2011
To find out how to look for other reviews, please see our guides to finding book reviews in the Sciences or Social Sciences and Humanities.
Summaries
Main Description
Israel is a subject of deep dispute among those who debate Indian foreign policy. Throughout the twentieth century arguments have raged over the Palestinian problem and the future of bilateral relations. Yet no text exists that comprehensively looks at the attitudes and policies of India toward Israel and how they have developed in conjunction with history.P. R. Kumaraswamy is the first to account for India's Israel policy, revealing surprising inconsistencies in positions taken by India's leaders, such as Mahatma Ghandi and Jawaharlal Nehru, and tracing the crackling tensions between its values and realpolitik. Kumaraswamy's findings debunk the myth that India has a homogenous policy toward the Middle East. In fact, since the early days of independence, many within India have supported relations with Israel. Using material derived from archives in India and Israel, Kumaraswamy investigates the factors that have hindered the relations between the two countries despite numerous commonalities. He also considers the treatment of India as a third world country and how this has destabilized relations; the actions that are necessary for normalization to occur; and the directions bilateral relations might take. Kumaraswamy's most provocative argument is that anticolonial sentiment and the Muslim minority have played a disproportionate role in shaping Indian policy.
Main Description
India's foreign policy toward Israel is a subject of deep dispute. Throughout the twentieth century arguments have raged over the Palestinian problem and the future of bilateral relations. Yet no text comprehensively looks at the attitudes and policies of India toward Israel, especially their development in conjunction with history.P. R. Kumaraswamy is the first to account for India's Israel policy, revealing surprising inconsistencies in positions taken by the country's leaders, such as Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, and tracing the crackling tensions between its professed values and realpolitik. Kumaraswamy's findings debunk the belief that India possesses a homogenous policy toward the Middle East. In fact, since the early days of independence, many within India have supported and pursued relations with Israel.Using material derived from archives in both India and Israel, Kumaraswamy investigates the factors that have hindered relations between these two countries despite their numerous commonalities. He also considers how India destabilized relations, the actions that were necessary for normalization to occur, and the directions bilateral relations may take in the future. In his most provocative argument, Kumaraswamy underscores the disproportionate affect of anticolonial sentiments and the Muslim minority on shaping Indian policy.
Main Description
India's foreign policy toward Israel is a subject of deep dispute. Throughout the twentieth century arguments have raged over the Palestinian problem and the future of bilateral relations. Yet no text comprehensively looks at the attitudes and policies of India toward Israel, especially their development in conjunction with history. P. R. Kumaraswamy is the first to account for India's Israel policy, revealing surprising inconsistencies in positions taken by the country's leaders, such as Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, and tracing the crackling tensions between its professed values and realpolitik. Kumaraswamy's findings debunk the belief that India possesses a homogenous policy toward the Middle East. In fact, since the early days of independence, many within India have supported and pursued relations with Israel. Using material derived from archives in both India and Israel, Kumaraswamy investigates the factors that have hindered relations between these two countries despite their numerous commonalities. He also considers how India destabilized relations, the actions that were necessary for normalization to occur, and the directions bilateral relations may take in the future. In his most provocative argument, Kumaraswamy underscores the disproportionate affect of anticolonial sentiments and the Muslim minority on shaping Indian policy.
Bowker Data Service Summary
The author explores India's Israel policy, revealing surprising inconsistencies in positions taken by such leaders as Mahatma Ghandi and Jawaharlal Nehru and crackling tensions between its values and real politik.
Table of Contents
Acknowledgmentsp. ix
Introductionp. 1
Mahatma Gandhi and the Jewish National Homep. 25
The Congress Party and the Yishuvp. 44
The Islamic Prism: The Inc Versus the Muslim Leaguep. 68
India, UNSCOP, and the Partition of Palestinep. 85
Recognition without Relationsp. 108
Domestic Politicsp. 138
International Factorsp. 163
Nehru and the Era of Deterioration, 1947-1964p. 182
The Years of Hardened Hostility, 1964-1984p. 201
Prelude to Normalizationp. 224
Normalization and Afterp. 238
Conclusionp. 264
Notesp. 275
Bibliographyp. 323
Indexp. 339
Table of Contents provided by Ingram. All Rights Reserved.

This information is provided by a service that aggregates data from review sources and other sources that are often consulted by libraries, and readers. The University does not edit this information and merely includes it as a convenience for users. It does not warrant that reviews are accurate. As with any review users should approach reviews critically and where deemed necessary should consult multiple review sources. Any concerns or questions about particular reviews should be directed to the reviewer and/or publisher.

  link to old catalogue

Report a problem