Kashmir and Palestine are often cited as two strugglers for the right to self-determination and resistance against state oppression. In order to make sense of the events, it is important to look at the strategic objectives of Israel and India in the conflict zones of Palestine and Kashmir, respectively. This would entail looking at the logic of both Indian and Israeli state occupation of these regions and what compels them to hold onto these areas despite active resistance movements in these areas.
With the creation of Israel, about a million Palestinian Arabs were displaced from their homes and Israel had to fight a war with the neighboring Arab states for its right to exist. For the Arabs residing in these areas, the creation of Israel was an import of the European Jewish problem to the Middle East and therefore, an extension of imperialism and colonialism. But at the same time, the Jewish state was to exist in an area where the political culture was essentially anti-Semitic. All of these themes still persist in how Palestinians view the Israeli state. It is the legacy of European colonialism and anti-Semitism that has influenced Palestinian views towards Israel since its creation.
The other side of the story is how the Israeli state has justified its actions and ensured its survival. By the virtue of being surrounded by nations which are hostile towards its very ‘right’ of existence and having experienced the trauma of persecution, the Jewish state had to ensure its security. It was possible only if it could either alter its relations with the neighboring Arab nations or if it could keep a strong hold military hold over its surrounding regions and maintain a huge disparity between its own military strength and those of the surrounding regions. The first option hasn’t been able to come to fruition because of the deep ideological divide and hence, Israel has pursued the second.
The Israeli control of West Bank and Gaza has granted it strategic depth against any invasion from the Arab nations and with the capture of Golan Heights it could defend its most important water resource, the Kineret. However, the capture of these areas also brought a huge population of Palestinians under Israeli control. The people residing in these areas were already hostile to the idea of Israel and its subsequent control, and the denial of self-determination led to the alienation of Palestinians. On the other hand, Israeli fear about opening up political climate of occupied territories was due to inherent hostility in the region towards Israel. Hence, a regime of oppression was established by Israel to control these territories in order to ensure its security in the face of constant Arab hostility.
India under the leadership of Nehru had committed to the values of secularism and Kashmir’s integration with India was ample demonstration of this commitment. The Indian nation state since independence had accommodated regional aspirations that could be granted within the federal structure. But Kashmiri demands of self-determination and a possible plebiscite couldn’t be accommodated within this structure. The possibility of Kashmir becoming an independent nation isn’t something that is acceptable to either India or Pakistan within their strategic competition for control over Kashmir. For India, control over Kashmir is more than just a matter of regional security and geo-political rivalry but that of ideology. Control over Kashmir completes the two-nation theory upon which Pakistan was created, while its integration with India invalidates this claim. On the other hand, Kashmir seceding from India attacks the premise of Indian national imagination, which accommodates a whole range of diverse regional and religious identities.
In both the cases while methods of resistance and state response depict remarkable similarities; the nature of power, which holds onto them, depicts stark differences. Israel’s occupation of Palestine has been guided by the primary aim of ensuring its security in a climate of geo-political hostility. The compulsion to control Palestine has been an existential battle for Israel as it serves as a guarantee to Israeli security against any large Arab attack as well as against groups like Hamas who have bases in Palestine.
On the other hand India has to hold onto Kashmir so as to protect the sanctity of the idea upon which it was based. The control over Kashmir grants India domestic and international legitimacy and is a cornerstone to the very idea of what distinguishes India and Pakistan. But the repression of political resistance challenges this very idea. This is a huge paradox of India’s presence in Kashmir, which it grapples with in contemporary times.
Despite these deep divides, both of these cases show one remarkable similarity, that of lack of options for reconciliation. The reconciliation in Arab-Israel conflict is difficult due to a huge ideological gap between both Arabs and Israelis. The same goes for the Indian presence in Kashmir. With accommodation becoming even more difficult after the politics of India and Israel taking a right wing turn, the future of peace process looks bleaker than ever before.
Samarth Gupta is a third year student of Ashoka University studying Political Science and International Relations.