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May 27, 2003
It has long been known that the Bharatiya Janata Party, like its parent Jana Sangh, has a special admiration for the state of Israel, which is rooted deep in its ideology. Over the last five years, it has elevated India-Israel political and military relations to heights never before contemplated. Even so, few people expected the BJP-led government to propose a unique "core" alliance to fight "international terrorism," including India, Israel and the United States. Even more astonishing is its move to invite Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to visit India in the second week of June.
Consider the factual record. On May 8, National Security Adviser Brajesh Mishra addressed the 97th annual dinner meeting of the American Jewish Committee in Washington in the presence of a large number of US Congressmen -- and Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, who closely competes with Tony Blair in demonstrating a particularly servile form of loyalty to President George W Bush. Mishra spoke in "admiration" of the AJC and in "celebration" of the "the alliance of free societies involved in combating this scourge [of terrorism]. The US, India and Israel have all been prime targets of terrorism. They have to jointly face the same ugly face of modern-day terrorism."
Mishra advocated that "a core, consisting of democratic societies" must emerge, "which can take on international terrorism in a holistic and focused manner... to ensure that the global campaign against terrorism is pursued to its logical conclusion, and does not run out of steam because of other preoccupations. We owe this commitment to our future generations." The US-Israel-India "triad" or "axis" would form the core of this "democratic" alliance.
This triad would have "the political will and moral authority to take bold decisions... It would not get bogged down in definitional and casual arguments..." Mishra underscored the growing proximity between the three states: "We are all democracies, sharing a common vision of pluralism, tolerance and equal opportunity. Stronger India-US relations and India-Israel relations have a natural logic." This expands on Vajpayee's India-and-the-US-as-"natural-allies" theme.
Mishra sharply attacked what he called "diversionary arguments", especially the "motivatedly propagated" fallacy "that terrorism can only be eradicated by addressing its 'root causes'. This is nonsense." Instead, he advocated "preventive measures" involving "cooperation based on... shared values", such as "blocking financial supplies [to terrorists], disrupting [their] networks, sharing intelligence [and] simplifying extradition procedures." This articulates the Israeli government's well-known militarist approach to the question of Palestine, which disconnects "terrorism" from the illegal occupation of Palestinian territory.
Mishra's speech is remarkable for its adulation of the AJC, which is an out-and-out Zionist organisation. It comes on top of burgeoning contacts between New Delhi and Tel Aviv since they established full-scale relations in 1992. In 1999, Mishra visited Israel and met Prime Minister Ehud Barak. He was followed next year by Home Minister L K Advani and Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh. Israel and India have since developed close "cooperation" in intelligence-sharing and "counter-insurgency" operations. India has become a major, if not world's biggest, buyer of Israeli armaments. It has just received US clearance for acquiring Israel's Phalcon air-borne early warning and control system, and is now trying to buy the "Arrow" missile defence system in whose development S Y Coleman, a firm headed by Lt Gen Jay Garner (yes, of Iraq fame!) was critically involved.
Above all, the BJP is repaying its debt to the AJC -- America's single most powerful advocacy group, with connections in the Pentagon, the defence industry, Capitol Hill, the state department and the Bush cabinet. The AJC in recent years has helped pro-BJP non-resident Indians in the US to lobby Washington and build the India Caucus in Congress, with as many as 160 members -- "perhaps the largest single-country" group in the House of Representatives, as Mishra boasted. This link, more than any arms deals, explains the ardour with which the Vajpayee government has embraced Likud Party-ruled Israel.
In some respects, the "triad" or "axis" proposal marks a quantum jump. It is based on a peculiar perception of terrorism and of Palestinian independence as a "terrorist" cause. This perception is an Israeli hallmark. Without it, there can be no special basis for an "anti-terrorism" joint front or "axis" which includes Israel.
Indian public opinion strongly opposes this view, and Israel's policy of occupation and brutal repression. Indians are not anti-Semitic, but they have been consistently supportive of Palestinian statehood. For them, Yasser Arafat of the pre-Oslo period was something of a hero. The Palestinian struggle still remains heroic. The "triad" proposal's timing coincides with a major US offensive in West Asia. Globally, Israel today is more isolated than ever before. It's doubtful if any European Union member-state would invite Sharon to visit and endorse his hardline policies.
Sharon seems to be baulking at the "Road Map", first proposed by Bush last June, to settle the Palestine-Israel conflict. This document, since revised by the US state department, is remarkably partial to Israel and imposes tough obligations upon the Palestinian Authority and people, including an "immediate and unconditional ceasefire to end armed activity and all acts of violence against Israelis anywhere." But it doesn't impose the same conditions on Israel. In the first phase, Israel only needs to dismantle settlement outposts built since March 2001.
Israel has just (reluctantly) "accepted" the "Road Map" under US pressure, but put its own interpretation on it, hedged it in with conditions, and explicitly rejected the right of Palestinian refugees to return -- essential to any fair settlement of the historic dispute. It has stipulated yet harsher obligations which the PA must fulfil -- before it takes even the first step.
The "Road Map" itself follows the collapse of the Oslo Accords brought about by Israeli intransigence and sustained Palestinian resistance -- despite the Arafat leadership's willingness to implement them. But like Oslo, the "Road Map" envisages "a final settlement" which will give nominal statehood to Palestine, but subordinate it politically, economically and militarily to Israel through a Bantustan-type solution. Israel would continue to control "security" (i.e. dominate all territory and entry and exit points), water, and movement of people. Palestine won't have its own army, nor even contiguous territory. Israel won't have to own up its culpability for the pillage of Palestinian property during the 1948 exodus, and for the post-1967 occupation.
This solution is patently unjust. It mocks at all notions of fairness and honourable peace. To force it through, the US must "discipline" Syria and Iran (now that Iraq has fallen), and divide and coerce the PA's leadership. It's already moving in that direction by threatening Syria and foisting Mahmoud Abbas (alias Abu Mazen) upon Arafat as his prime minister. Sharon has not only welcomed and met Abu Mazen, he has decided to spurn leaders who do any business with Arafat.
It's a safe bet that a majority of Indians will oppose a Sharon visit and the anti-terrorism "axis" proposal as immoral and unwise. Most political parties have condemned the proposal. The Congress described it as "strange and perverse" and as arising from the BJP's "obsession" with Israel: "It shows [the government's] intellectual insolvency..." The Congress has also stressed India's commitment to the Palestinian cause and recalled Non-Aligned Movement resolutions.
The Samajwadi Party says Mishra shouldn't have made "such blatant statements which go against the proclaimed policy of NAM." And the CPM and CPI have accused the government of having "completely sold... out to the US. It is overturning our foreign policy. It is very dangerous…"
The BJP, and more broadly, the Sangh Parivar, has an acute and long-standing Israel obsession. Establishing full relations with Israel was always a distinctive part of the Jana Sangh-BJP's agenda. Indeed, when RSS chief Balasaheb Deoras was asked in late 1991 -- after India's turn towards economic neoliberalism -- what's the one thing he wanted from the soft-on-the-BJP Narasimha Rao government, he unhesitatingly answered: full-scale relations with Israel.
There are three reasons for the BJP's fascination with Israel and Zionism. First, a desire to toady up to the US through its most important strategic ally outside Europe, and thus isolate Pakistan, which cannot possibly ally with Israel as an "Islamic" state. Second, the BJP shares Likud's Islamophobia and anti-Arabism. The third reason is hyper-nationalism. The BJP is fascinated by the highly militarised, tough-as-nails nature of Israeli society and by its state's willingness to use massive force against the Palestinians whom it treats as terrorists and sub-human vermin, pure and simple. This closely parallels what some people in the Parivar would like to do to India's own religious minorities.
The BJP's ideology admires people like Sharon for their machismo and ferocious jingoism. Many Hindutva hardliners see Hindus and Jews (plus Christians) as "strategic allies" against Islam and Confucianism. Nothing could be more grossly wrong than this "clash-of-civilisations" absurdity or an unethical alliance on India's part with Israel, one of the most retrograde forces in the world, opposed to freedom and national liberation. Sharon must not be invited to India. There must be no anti-terrorist "triad" which includes Israel.