Partition in Ireland, India and Palestine: Theory and Practice

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Some went to the extent of alerting the public of an "Indo-Israel collaboration against the Muslim world. Prime Minister P. Narasimha Rao's decision in January to establish formal diplomatic relations with Israel, however, altered the ground reality.

Partition in Ireland, India, and Palestine : Theory and Practice

The move completed a process that began in September when India recognised the Jewish state. India earned the dubious distinction of being the last major non-Arab and non-Islamic state to establish normal relations with Israel. Indian leaders and academics began searching for areas of common interest and historical similarities. In short, drawing negative parallels between Israel and Pakistan no longer serves Indian interests. If the Indian government was behind the public opinion on Israel,25 the converse is true of Pakistan.

Due to strong religious and emotional sentiments, the question of Israel and normalisation of relations evoke a certain animosity in Pakistan. As such, demands for normalisation or re-examination of the traditional policy are more subtle and less pronounced than in India. However, it would be very difficult for Pakistan to remain immune and indifferent towards the rapidly changing Middle East landscape.

The presence of many Arab representatives at the funeral of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was testimony to the emerging new political climate. A comprehensive peace in the region is bound to modify, dilute and mitigate Pakistan's traditional public position towards Israel. While this process is likely to be slower than those of the Gulf sheikhdoms, an Israeli-Pakistani rapprochement, if not accommodation, would compel both countries to seek areas of similarities and draw favourable parallels.

In the changed political situations, it is inevitable that erstwhile negative stereotypes would give way to a positive parallel, one that benefits both countries. While there are a number of similarities between them,26 this article would examine three broad issues, namely, minority nationalism based on religion, demand for a national home for minorities, and security consciousness. Since new political entities have been carved out of, or emerged from, larger units, it is natural that the perceptions of the majority and minority communities differ.

Geographical diminution angered and anguished the majority that viewed the emergence of new entities as secession and vivisection of the motherland. For the minority, however, the issues appeared differently and with positive attributes. This dichotomy reflects the differences between the major players over the definition of "minority" and, consequently, the latter's aspirations and nature of relationship with the "majority". By definition, the minority is numerically inferior and hence self-determination based on numbers does not work in its favour.

It perceives democracy as a euphemism for its marginalisation under majority domination or at worst a synonym for oppression. The majority-minority tension is complicated by another dimension: religion.


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Religion plays a crucial role in defining and shaping individual and collective identities. In the name of universal brotherhood, every religion has created a bipolar world, namely, believer and non-believer, faithful and infidel, or simply Us vs Them. While unifying the followers, religion also intensifies the differences with the others. Every religion has a unique way of treating the foreigner.

While some have undergone practical modifications to keep up with the changing times, others have not. This inherent dichotomy is accentuated if religion assumes a national identity or when a national identity is formulated along religious lines. Both the Zionists and the Muslim League adopted an identical approach towards the right of self-determination of religious minorities in Palestine and India respectively.

Their numerical inferiority prevented and precluded the possibility of a political decision based on universal adult franchise. Rejecting a parallel between Israel and his country, Zafrulla Khan reminded the UN that the Pakistani population was over times larger than that of Israel.

Historiography of Ireland and The British Empire

He was only partly correct. Though British India had the largest Muslim concentration in the world, Muslims were merely the largest minority in a predominantly Hindu India. This demographic asymmetry compelled the League to seek "communal parity" with the Congress Party. Neither its dismal electoral performance in the Muslim dominated areas in the summer of nor the preference for India by a large majority of Muslims of the subcontinent a decade later inhibited the League from claiming an exclusive representative status for itself.


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  7. The League divided the Indian population along the classical religious mould: Us vs Them. That the us component was a numerical, social, cultural and historic minority in India did not bother the League. In other words, speaking in the name of the entire Muslim community in the undivided India, the League divided the subcontinent along communal lines, Muslims and non-Muslims. The success of the League in creating Pakistan depended solely on its ability to project and convince both the British and the believers that it was a national and not a communal organisation and hence it should be treated on par with the Congress Party.

    Only in this manner was it able to circumvent the numerical question and avoid minority status for Indian Muslims. Accepting such anomalies would have undermined and negated the League's claim for parity and exclusive representative status.

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    A similar situation prevailed in Palestine. The formation of the modern Jewish state began with the Balfour Declaration which pledged the British support for the establishment of a Jewish national home in Palestine. It declared: " Despite continuous legal and illegal immigration since the late 19th century, the numerical asymmetry against the Jews continued right until the formation of the Jewish state in Even the UN partition proposal envisaged a Jewish state with a slim majority. The success of the Zionist enterprise in Palestine not only depended upon the creation of a homeland in a hostile environment but also in persuading a large portion of the Diaspora to make aliya to that homeland.

    Conflicting interpretations aside, it meant the creation of a state by making the Jews return to the land of their ancestors. Acutely aware of the demographic asymmetry, the Zionists, like the Muslim League, opted for a national self-determination based not on universal adult franchise but on the principle of parity—parity between Jews and non-Jews or between incoming Jews and native Arabs. In July , summing up the general position of the Jewish nationalists, the Royal Palestine Commission headed by Earl Peel remarked:.

    The Jews did not wish, they said, to be 'dominated' by the Arabs, neither did they wish to 'dominate them'. They were prepared, therefore, to adhere to the principle of 'parity'. If a Legislative Council were now established, and if the present Jewish minority were given an equal number of seats thereon with the present Arab majority, the Jews would never claim more than that equal number whatever the future ratio between Arab and Jewish population might become.

    When they were demanding parity with the Arabs, the yishuv constituted just over 28 per cent of the total population of Palestine.

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    If both opted for a minority-based separation, the Islamists preferred a conflicting approach towards the nationalist demands of the minorities. Their responses were guided by strong Islamic considerations. In India, where the Muslims were a minority, they argued that because of their religious identity, Muslims were a separate nation from the majority Hindus and hence were entitled to a separate political entity.

    Without it, the believer would be unable to lead a truly religious life. This argument, however, was disadvantageous in Palestine where the Muslims were the majority. Therefore, since Islam treats the Jews as protected dhimmis non-Muslim subjects of a Muslim ruler , the minority Jews would have to accept the majority rule and abandon their demand for a separate national home.

    In the words of S. Burke, partition "the only means of real freedom to the Indian Muslims The United Nations cannot subscribe to the principle that a racial or religious minority, whether arising from national development or created as a result of immigration, can insist upon the breaking up of a homeland or shatter the political, geographical and economic unity of a country without the consent and against the wishes of the majority.

    While it is possible to apply this logic to the Indian subcontinent, Zafrulla Khan himself developed second thoughts about the partition of Palestine. During his conversations with Arab interlocutors in December shortly after the UN vote in November , but a few months before the formation of Israel, he remarked that partition was the only solution for Palestine and had counselled the Arabs to allow the establishment of a Jewish state.

    In both cases, the response of the majority towards minority separatism was also radically different. In spite of its fundamental opposition to the two-nation theory, the majority segment of the Indian population represented by the Congress Party, had accepted the division as a painful but inevitable price for freedom.

    As a result, even though Pakistan had legitimate security concerns and fears over India's regional ambitions, no responsible Indian leader sought to undo the partition. Even those segments of Hindu nationalists who visualised the incorporation of Pakistan into a greater India or Akhand Bharat gradually came to terms with the objective reality.

    The same cannot be said about the partition of Palestine where the Arab leaders had vehemently opposed the partition plan. The Arab-Israeli problem was not about territorial integrity, border or other political differences. It is largely a far more fundamental conflict over Israel's right to exist. Not only have the Arab leaders refused to accept the partition but for decades the Arab and Islamic countries in the region and elsewhere treated Israel not as a state but as an alien and even temporary "entity". Even after the on-going peace process between Israel and its Arab neighbours, Israel does not figure in the official maps published by many countries in the region.

    In both the cases, the minorities were apprehensive of their fate following the British withdrawal and feared that independence under a unitary state would be nothing more than a majority domination. It is possible to question whether such fears were real or imaginary but they existed. The League thrived on the notion that the removal of the British from India would place the Muslims, India's rulers before the arrival of the imperialists, at the mercy of the Hindus.

    It was unwilling to believe that the non-Muslims could and would protect and represent Muslim interests. It had little faith in the liberal democratic framework whereby the political structure would be based on popular acceptance and political accountability rather than on religious affiliations. The concerns of the Zionists were only marginally different. The demand for a Jewish homeland in Palestine was the culmination of various forms of social, political, religious and economic persecution that beleaguered the Jews for two millenia.

    Contrary to general perceptions in Third World countries, dhimma status granted to the Jews does not envisage equality between Muslims and non-Muslims. In coming to Palestine they were not seeking to live under the Muslim Arabs. The purpose was not to seek a new master but to be one's own ruler. The formation of Israel and Pakistan underscores the importance of minority separatism; both sought the creation of a homeland where the community could preserve its distinct religious, cultural and economic identity and live with honour and dignity.