Next only to South Asia, West Asia matters most to us in foreign policy. It is where nearly eight lakh expatriate workers are making their living. It is from their remittances, constituting more than half of our total foreign exchange earnings, that we get the wherewithal to buy arms from Israel. Their safety is crucially dependent on the Arab goodwill that we have patiently built with Arab and Iranian regimes, monarchist or republican, revolutionary or Islamist. The region is the second or third most important destination for our exports. And it is from there that we source 70 per cent of our oil imports.
The issue that most unites the otherwise fractious nations of West Asia and Iran is Israel. It is in this respect that, owing to the immense foresight and sheer goodness of Jawaharlal Nehru, we made what till recently was an indelible mark on the West Asian and Iranian consciousness. Gandhiji set the tone with his celebrated remark in 1938, “Palestine belongs to the Palestinians as England belongs to the English and France to the French”.
In keeping with that, but recognising that Palestine was also home to a large and growing number of Jews, Nehru invited both Palestinian and Zionist representatives to the Asian Relations Conference in March 1947.
Inevitably, the two clashed, and it was left to Nehru to bring them together. The audience burst into thunderous applause when the heads of the two delegations shook hands.
In keeping with that spirit, India played a leading role in the two committees set up by the UN to consider the future of Palestine at the termination of the British mandate. While the West and the Soviet Union were united in their demand that Palestine be partitioned to create a sovereign homeland for the Jews, India, itself under the shadow of a looming, blood-soaked Partition, took the lead in arguing for a single federal state in which there would be two autonomous Jewish and Arab regions, but with a common central government democratically elected by all the citizens of a common state. To begin with, it looked as if the Indian formula would work as a compromise between the two diametrically opposed positions taken by the Arab states and the Zionists, but slowly, as pressure on the smaller states mounted from the major powers, they moved to the other side and Palestine was ultimately partitioned. The consequences have been more far-reaching and far more prolonged than was the case with the partitioning of India. But every dire prophecy of the Indian delegation has been more than tragically fulfilled, with terrible human consequences over the last 67 years.
The alternative two-state solution has been proposed but is far from being realised. Israel, with all the continued…