India – Israel relations are more open and visible – Nina Slama

Amidst the war in Gaza, there is a view that India-Israel ties have reached a new milestone. What are your thoughts?

India and Israel are strategic partners. They are collaborating on a wide range of sectors such as security, agriculture, water management, and space. Since Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to power in 2014, the relations between both countries have become more open and visible.

When the October 7th terrorist attacks occurred, Prime Minister Modi was one of the first leaders in the world to condemn the attacks and express his unequivocal support for Israel. Many commentators perceived this position to be a new milestone in India-Israel relations since it was the first time that a sitting Indian premier expressed its unequivocal support to the Jewish state during a confrontation between Israel and the Hamas terrorist organization. Nevertheless, several days later India reiterated its support for the Palestinian cause and the two-state solution.

When it comes to Israel and the Palestinian Authority, Prime Minister Modi conducts a de-hyphenated policy. It means that India decouples its relations with both entities and decides to treat them separately without being compelled to see them as a zero-sum game, where any rapprochement to Israel necessarily means a deterioration of relations with the Palestinian Authority.

This is why India decided to change its voting pattern in the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) by abstaining from resolutions that explicitly condemn Israel and do not denounce terrorism. In October 2023, for instance, India abstained from a resolution calling for an immediate truce between Israel and Hamas without deploring the terrorist attacks that were perpetrated by Hamas against the Jewish state. Nonetheless, as the war between both sides evolved and the number of casualties in Gaza increased, India called for a humanitarian pause and requested a more restrained response to the October 7th attacks. India also delivered 70 tons of humanitarian aid to Gaza. These developments exemplify the uniqueness of India’s foreign policy and its capacity to balance its relations with entities that might have conflicting interests and a certain level of hostility between them.


India once was a strong ally of Palestine, but the government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi seems to have ushered India’s relations with Israel completely out of the shadows of pro-Palestine. How do you see this new shift?

When a country is conducting a change in its foreign policy, it is important to analyze it through different perspectives and levels of analysis. I would like to focus on the regional aspect. Different dynamics in West Asia and North Africa have changed the policies of different countries in the world towards Israel. The eruption of the Arab Spring in 2010, the signing of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in 2015, the United States (US) withdrawal from the JCPOA in 2018, and the signing of the Abraham Accords in 2020 changed Israel’s position in West Asia and marginalized the Palestinian issue from the regional and international agendas. Israel, which was considered a source of regional unrest, became a source of stability in a volatile region. It enabled India and Israel to develop multilateral and mini-lateral engagements with Western Asian countries to address common security, economic, climate change, supply chain disruption, and other challenges. The I2U2 alliance, which was forged in 2021 following the signing of the Abraham Accords, illustrates it. This alliance is comprised of India, Israel, the UAE, and the US to promote a proactive dialogue between them and develop a more stable and prosperous region.

Although the current war between Israel and the Hamas terrorist organization centralized again the Palestinian issue to the regional and international agendas, I believe that pragmatic Arab countries in West Asia will continue to collaborate with the Jewish state to ensure the stability and prosperity of the region. This is why India will continue to balance its relations with Israel and the Palestinian Authority.


Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki recently said that Palestine is increasingly looking to China to help achieve the goal of national self-determination. How do you see the China-Palestine ties?

Throughout the years, China conducted a pro-Palestinian policy. In 1965, China forged its relations with the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and allowed the PLO to open a representative office in China. In 1974, this office became an embassy. China’s support to the PLO during Mao Zedong’s rule was part of a broader struggle in the context of the Cold War. China perceived Israel to be part of ‘’Western imperialism’’ in West Asia. When Deng Xiaoping came to power in 1979, he promoted a more pragmatic policy. He wanted to develop China’s economy and modernize its military capabilities by forging security relations with Israel. These relations remained secret until both countries established full diplomatic relations in 1992. Nowadays, China is the larger trading partner of Israel, and shares a strategic partnership with PA.

At the beginning of the current war, China called on all sides to remain calm, exercise restraint, end the hostilities, and avoid the deterioration of the situation. China also urged to allow humanitarian access to civilians and promote the two-state solution. When it comes to Israel and the PA, China exercises a cautious policy. China would like to maintain its relations with Arab states and Iran while maintaining good relations with Israel. This is why China deplored the October 7th attacks without naming the Hamas terrorist organization, which is a proxy of Iran.

As the war is evolving, China is being more vocal about Israel’s policy in Gaza. China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi declared that Israel’s actions in Gaza went beyond the scope of self-defense and demanded that Israel halt its aggression in Gaza. He also described the war in Gaza as a disgrace to civilization and reiterated China’s support for the establishment of an Independent Palestinian state, which will be granted full membership in the United Nations. This is a departure from China’s traditional stand on conflicts in West Asia, as China usually does not take a clear position. Israel expected China to strongly condemn Hamas terrorist attacks but the latter did not do so.


China succeeded in brokering a peace agreement between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Given this background, China seems to have overtaken the image of peace in the Middle East. Do you believe China can play a peace broker role in Gaza?

China would like to restore stability in West Asia to promote its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). This is why China aspires to promote diplomatic means to resolve conflicts, as it did when it mediated an agreement between Iran and Saudi Arabia in March 2023.

China believes that the conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Authority can be resolved through negotiations. Chinese President Xi Jinping has called for an international peace conference to resolve the war in Gaza. Nevertheless, China’s diplomatic influence in West Asia is limited. Although the US largely reduced its involvement in West Asia, it is still a reliable mediator in the region. The US shares good relations with pragmatic Arab countries and is ready to put economic and military efforts to pursue its objectives in the region. However, China is not willing to do so.

Many Arab pragmatic countries are significantly threatened by Iran’s aspirations in the region. This is why they prefer to maintain good relations with the US. Although China is willing to restore the stability in West Asia it does have the diplomatic means to do so. Both Israel and the Palestinian Authority do not perceive China to be a reliable mediator in the conflict. The main mediators in the conflict are the US, Egypt, Qatar, and several member states of the European Union to a certain extent.


Nina Slama is a Guest Lecturer, Teaching Assistant, and Project Manager at Reichman University (IDC Herzliya). She is also an Indo-Israel Affairs Analyst at the Usanas Foundation.