Indian interests in the Persian Gulf region are paramount. That is from where India gets 70% of its oil, and where seven million of Indian citizens labour and send back remittances of around USD 35 billion per annum.

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Photo: Etienne Valois/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Just what persuaded the US to announce, on 6 December, that it was recognising Jerusalem as Israel‘s eternal capital is not very clear. Some say it was a fulfilment of a campaign promise by President Trump. Others hint darkly that it was deal with the pro-Israel billionaire Sheldon Adelson who had donated USD 20 million for the Trump campaign. But it did put New Delhi in a spot of bother.

On 19 December, the US vetoed a resolution in the UN Security Council calling on Trump to withdraw his recognition. All other 14 members including UK and France supported the resolution.

Then on 21 December, came a stronger rebuke when the UN General Assembly passed a resolution denouncing the US move. As many as 128 countries voted for the resolution with just nine including the US opposing and 35 abstentions. India came through, as one of those who supported the resolution.

But it may have been a near run thing. Following Trump’s announcement, there was a distinct waffle in New Delhi’s position.

The ideological Modi government puts much store on its relations with Israel. In his visit there earlier this year, Modi pointedly refused to visit Ramallah, the capital of Palestine. On 7 December, the official spokesman issued a bland statement that “India’s position on Palestine is independent and consistent.. and not determined by any third country.”

Read | On Jerusalem, Modi government is putting ideology over national interest

He didn’t quite spell out what it was. In his weekly media briefing on 21 December, on the eve of the vote, too, the spokesman dodged the question of the prospective Indian vote, and just repeated his non sequitur of the previous fortnight. So, it was indeed, something of a surprise when India voted along traditional lines in support of Palestine. Perhaps it did so following the lobbying by Arab ambassadors, or maybe, it was an outcome of a careful calculation of national interests trumping ideology.

In an era when Saudi Arabia and Israel are collaborating, it perhaps is too much to expect countries to take a stand on the Palestinian issue on the basis of ideology. Even Canada and Mexico which tamely abstained have let it be known that their position was, to an extent, based on their ongoing negotiations with the US on the North America Free Trade Agreement. It would, of course, have been embarrassing to have been in the list of those supporting the US — two Central American countries and Palau, Togo, Micronesia and the Marshall Islands, and Israel.

Indian interests in the Persian Gulf region are paramount. That is from where India gets 70 per cent of its oil, and where seven million of Indian citizens labour and send back remittances of around USD 35 billion per annum, three times more than the rich NRIs send from the US.

Modi’s own diplomacy has added another dimension to the relationship. The Abu Dhabi Investment Authority has put USD 1 billion into the special HDFC affordable housing scheme, USD 1 billion in the NIIF and USD 300 million in a renewable energy project, all in this year.

The stinging rebuke to the US on Jerusalem has come at a time when Washington has been criticising countries that it says do not want a “rule based international order” such as Russia which grabbed Crimea and China which has trashed the UNCLOS. Yet, the US, which has itself not ratified the UNCLOS, has no hesitation in taking a decision which shreds the international law on Jerusalem. As of today, the legal position is that East Jerusalem is part of occupied Palestinian territory. There are seven operative UNSC resolutions condemning the attempted annexation of East Jerusalem by Israel.

The US has abstained on most of them. However they determine the legal position that the status of East Jerusalem is yet to be decided under international law.

And this is the law that the Trump administration has wilfully defied through its action.

New Delhi has done well to maintain its traditional position on the issue. Consistency may well be the virtue of an ass, but in international relations, it also provides for credibility. As the global hegemon, the US can get away with a lot, not so a poor South Asian country, no matter how big.

This commentary originally appeared in The Economics Times.


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