NEW DELHI – The dissonance is striking between the warmth with which Prime Minister Narendra Modi has welcomed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to his country, and how India voted against Israel and the US in the UN General Assembly vote on Jerusalem last month.
Netanyahu, at a briefing here with reporters, was asked about India’s vote on the resolution that rejected US President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. The vote passed 128-9, with 35 abstentions.
The prime minister, predictably, played down the significance of India’s vote in the larger context of Indo-Israel ties. He said it will take about 10 years for a shift in voting patterns to be felt in international forums, and “this applies to even close friends like India.”
The prime minister said that “one vote does not change the overall pattern” of ties between the two countries, which he said is of “a very close relationship that is getting closer, and that is encompassing many, many fields.”
Still, if the relationship is so close, then how to explain the vote? Is that how close friends treat one another? Something doesn’t fit.
Both Indian and Israeli officials said that there were a number of factors involved in the vote.
The first has to do with India’s wider relations with the Arab world. Not only is India dependent on the Middle East for some 60% of its oil and gas, but an estimated 7 million Indian nationals work in the Persian Gulf, sending back home billions of dollars to support their families.
One would think that, since Israel has barely hidden contacts with the Gulf states, India should not have to worry about “retribution” for supporting Israel in an international vote. Even so, the threat of retribution is deeply ingrained into the Indian policy-making apparatus.
Modi also has to take into consideration long-time alliances and friendships India has in the Middle East, and does not want to unsettle those even as he draws his country much closer to Israel.
The officials said that while Modi has to take into consideration the country’s Muslim population, it is doubtful that New Delhi’s vote at the UN was motivated by electoral considerations, since India’s Muslims for the most part don’t vote for Modi’s nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party.
At the same time, Modi does not want to do anything that might cause disquiet among the country’s Muslims.
Another reason has to do with India’s position at the UN.
India is eyeing the possibility of gaining a permanent seat on the UN Security Council, something that would necessitate a twothirds majority vote in the General Assembly to change the UN Charter and add other permanent members to the council.
As such, diplomatic officials maintain, it is hesitant to vote against a measure supported by 14 of the 15 members of the council, because this could open it up to charges that it was undermining the multinational system by supporting one country’s wishes – the US – over those of the rest of the world, even as it was trying to gain a permanent seat on the most important multinational forum in the world.
And, finally, Trump’s threat to cut aid to countries that vote against it in the UN did not help in India’s case.
India is a massive country that sees itself as a world power, and does not want to be threatened or be seen as buckling under pressure. In the case of India, diplomatic officials said, not only did Trump’s threat not work, it had the opposite effect.