By Ahmed Khan, The Rahnuma Daily Editor-In-Chief (Online English)
HYDERABAD, Dec 7 (RAHNUMA) The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s Ambassador to India His Excellency Dr. Saud Al-Sati said at an event in Delhi earlier this week, “As the Ambassador of the Kingdom Saudi Arabia to India, I would like to stress that the Palestinian issue has been a top priority for my country since the time of the Kingdom’s founder, King Abdul Aziz Al-Saud. It is firmly based on the principle of justice, international legitimacy and the rejection of aggression. The Kingdom strongly supports the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination, their right to their own state on their own land and their right to return to their homes and properties in Palestine…I would like to take this opportunity to state that the Arab nations greatly value the Republic of India’s support to the Palestinian people to regain their legitimate rights. This valuable support has been reiterated by the recent message of the Prime Minister of India Mr. Narendra Modi on the occasion of the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian people“.
The Saudi Ambassador’s statement is in line with India’s historic position on the Palestine conflict. Given the position the Kingdom has in the Arab world, India should see these words from the Kingdom’s top diplomat to Delhi as an invitation by a strategic partner to consider increasing its role in the international community, and a chance to share our culture and philosophy with all those who are hurting without it.
1988: India recognizes Palestinian sovereignty
India recognized Palestine’s statehood following its declaration on 18 November 1988; although relations between India and PLO were first established in 1974. After India achieved its independence in 1947, it moved to support Palestinian self-determination following the partition of British India.
In the past, Jordanian Queen Rania expressed her views on India with the Indian media wherein she described India as the “rising star of Asia” and a “natural partner”.
India’s Arab friends are home to over 8 million Indian Diaspora. According to the World Bank, India is the highest recipient of global remittances at $80 billion USD in 2018. Over the last three years, India registered a significant flow of NRI remittances, from $62.7 billion in 2016 to $65.3 billion in 2017 which constituted 2.7% of India’s GDP.
NRI remittance to India from GCC countries in 2016 alone amounted to nearly 50% of the total remittance, at a whopping $36 billion USD, with UAE and Saudi Arabia at nearly $25 billion USD on their own.
Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam: world is one
In 2018, Prime Minister Modi became the first Indian Prime Minister in history to make an official visit to the State of Palestine. During his historic visit, India and the State of Palestine signed agreements totaling an unprecedented Rs. 3.6 billion INR – that including setting up of a $30 million USD super specialty hospital in the State of Palestine. Palestinian leaders termed the PM’s visit as “historic,” whereas the spokesperson of India’s Foreign Ministry Raveesh Kumar called it “truly memorable and history in making.”
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s foreign policy seems to clearly demonstrate Bharat’s rich Vedic tradition of ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’, meaning the world is one family, and this philosophy gives India an identity different from all other countries today. Prime Minister Modi is also the first PM in India’s history to officially communicate in the Arabic language. Earlier this year, Modi tweeted condolences to the families of the 35 Muslim passengers who died in a tragic bus accident near Makkah in Saudi Arabia.
While during his maiden visit to Israel in the year 2017, Modi did not travel to Ramallah, in the year 2018 during his visit to Palestine, he skipped a visit to Israel, sending a clear message that India de-hyphenates its ties with Israel and Palestine.
The Prime Minister’s ability to win wide appreciation in the Arab world for making history by visiting Palestine, while also balancing India’s ties to Israel, has propelled him to an almost Avatar-like status. Questions like how to meditate, and how achieving inner peace is connected to conflict resolution in our world were being posed to him at Riyadh’s Future Investment Initiative last month in the presence of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and Jordan’s King Abdullah II bin Al Hussein.
So wide is Modi’s appeal in the Gulf kingdoms, in 2019 he laid the foundation stone for the UAE’s first Vedic temple. He also launched a $4.2 million USD redevelopment project of an iconic 200-year old Lord Sri Krishna temple in Bahrain this year.
In August 2019, the UAE bestowed on Prime Minister Modi the country’s highest civilian award – the Order of Zayed while earlier, the Prime Minister was also honored with Saudi Arabia’s highest civilian award in 2016 by the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques.
Palestinian recognition: India’s nexus with Saudi Arabia
The words of Saudi Arabia’s top envoy to India indicate the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in particular, and GCC countries in general, greatly value India’s continued support for the Palestinian cause.
Saudi Arabia is the fourth-largest trading partner for India with bilateral trade exceeding $25 billion in 2016-17.
Saudi Arabia is India’s largest supplier of crude oil, about 20 per cent of its total annual imports.
India is home to 200 million Muslims, and by 2050 India will have the largest Muslim population in the world. Saudi Arabia is home to the Two Holy Mosques, the holiest sites in Islam, aside from Haram Al-Sharif Al Aqsa Mosque and compound in East Jerusalem, to which pilgrimage is a compulsory religious duty for India’s Muslims.
In 2019, Saudi Arabia increased India’s Hajj quota for a third time in three years to two-hundred thousand. Indians form the second-highest number of pilgrims to the Kingdom for Hajj this year. This new quota represents the highest number of pilgrims going for Hajj from India since independence.
Furthermore, the Kingdom is home to around 3.2 million expatriate Indians, that includes a growing number of professionals, including doctors, software engineers, and oil technologists.
Indians in Saudi Arabia are the largest expatriate community with an annual capital remittance to India from Saudi Arabia of over $10.2 billion USD as of 2016.
Blessed are the peacemakers
Saudi Arabia’s King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman see regional peace as crucial to the implementation of their Vision 2030 reforms, and it is clear India’s support for the two-state solution is seen as very helpful to the kingdom’s regional goals for development and peace.
During the third annual Future Investment Initiative summit in Riyadh, at which Prime Minister Modi was a keynote speaker, he said ‘India shares excellent bilateral relations with all the countries in the region, and a very large Indian Diaspora, numbering over 8 million, reside in the GCC‘.
Modi then talked about how a dialogue process that encourages the participation of all stakeholders is important to bring peace and security to the region.
When asked about what constructive role India could play in reducing tensions in the Middle East and West Asian regions, he replied that “we believe that a balanced approach is required to resolve the conflicts, while respecting the principles of sovereignty and non-interference in each other’s internal matters.”
Modi continued, “Asian powers like India and Saudi Arabia share similar security concerns in their neighborhood. Cooperation, especially in the field of counter terrorism, security and strategic issues, is moving ahead on a good scale.”
India’s support for Palestine at UN
India’s solidarity with the Palestinian people and its attitude to the Palestinian question was given voice during its freedom struggle by Mahatma Gandhi. Since then, empathy with the Palestinian cause and friendship with the people of Palestine have become an integral part of India’s foreign policy.
India was the first Non-Arab State to recognize the PLO as the sole and legitimate representative of the Palestinian people in 1974. India was one of the first countries to recognize the State of Palestine in 1988. In 1996, India opened its Representative Office to the Palestine Authority in Gaza, which later was shifted to Ramallah in 2003.
India has always played a proactive role in garnering support for the Palestinian cause in multilateral fora. India co-sponsored the draft resolution on “the right of Palestinians to self-determination” during the 53rd session of the UN General Assembly and voted in favour of it. India also voted in favour of UN General Assembly Resolution in October 2003 against the construction of the separation wall by Israel and supported subsequent resolutions of the UNGA in this regard. India voted in favour of accepting Palestine as a full member of UNESCO.
In 2012, Indian Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh made clear India’s position saying, “Support for the Palestinian cause has been a cornerstone of India’s foreign policy. I reiterated India’s firm support for the struggle of the Palestinian people to achieve a sovereign, independent, viable and united state of Palestine with East Jerusalem as its capital.”
Institution for peace, not instrument for powerful
At the United Nations General Assembly on November 29, 2012, the status of Palestine was upgraded to a ‘non-member state’. India co-sponsored this resolution and voted in favour of it. India supported the Bandung Declaration on Palestine at the Asian African Commemorative Conference in April 2015. India supported the installation of the Palestinian flags at UN premises along with other observer states, like the flags of member states, in September 2015.
As of December 21st, 2017, 176 nations among the 193 UN members called for Palestinian statehood. Of the 193 UN member states, 138 (71.5%) have recognized the State of Palestine as of 31 July 2019 following India’s lead. Palestine has been a non-member observer state of the UN since November 2012.
India’s Arab allies have clearly expressed to India their keen interest in reaching a peaceful solution for the Palestinian-Israeli conflict based on international legitimacy, the relevant UN Security Council resolutions and the Arab Peace Initiative that was proposed by Saudi Arabia more than 18 years ago, and was subsequently adopted by the Arab Summit held in Beirut in 2002 as well as by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation.
The question remains, why is the international community unable to enforce a peace plan to end the Palestine-Israel conflict via the United Nations and its Security Council?
During a brief question-answer session in Riyadh, Prime Minister Modi said that when the UN was created in 1945, it was expected that it would play a catalytic role in conflict resolution. But unfortunately, the UN could not yet grow into this role, he said. The international community seemed content to allow the UN to take the lead during instances of natural calamities or when pandemics break out which, the Prime Minister said was far below the stated objectives for creating such a world body, which was to provide direction and leadership to the world.
“Some strong countries have not allowed the UN to develop as an institution. Instead, they have used the UN as an instrument due to which the UN has not been able to contribute towards creating a rules-based global order,” Prime Minister Modi said in a stinging critique of the UN while in Riyadh.
Palestine resolution potentially propels ‘new Indian era‘
The new generation of Israelis and Palestinians have a right to live free, in peace, and love with safety with prosperity like all other people of the world.
The United Nations inability to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian crisis demonstrates as Prime Minister Modi said, ‘its failure to serve as a catalytic in conflict resolution’.
In an earlier interview to the Indian media, Palestinian Ambassador Adnan Abu Alhaijaa said the U.S. has compromised its position by being partisan and that Palestine is now looking for a ‘new body along with the United Nations’ to mediate between Israel and Palestine. ‘It could be the quartet with India and other countries to find a real solution for the Palestinian cause,’ the Ambassador said.
Abu Alhaijaa further expressed in the same interview the Palestinian government’s confidence in Prime Minister Modi, saying he could play a significant role in bringing normalcy in the region given his good relations with both the countries.
Perhaps it is now time for a new Indian era, where India rises to the occasion, and shares its rich values of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam (world is one), Purusha (cosmic man), and inner peace (conflict resolution from within) to bring a resolution to the unnecessary Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with the help of its international partners.
Ahmed Khan is the Editor-In-Chief & Publisher of The Rahnuma Daily (theRahnuma.com), the online English daily edition of The Rahnuma-E-Deccan Daily (ReDD), India’s oldest Urdu daily print newspaper established in 1921. More than 81.1 million Indians identify Urdu as their language, and as per the annual INA (Indian Newspapers Association) report, ReDD ranks among the top 5 most widely circulated and read Urdu daily print newspapers throughout India. Ahmed resides in Hyderabad at his maternal ancestral home and can be contacted at, @editor_therahnuma, firstname.lastname@example.org