External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj will start a big season of Israel-Arab League diplomacy when she lands in Israel on January 16. From Israel, Ms. Swaraj is scheduled to leave for Ramallah for the first official visit by her to the headquarters of the Palestinian Authority on January 17. She is expected to return the same day to continue discussions with Israeli leaders. However what is drawing attention of the policy makers in South Block is that within two days of her Israel trip Ms. Swaraj will fly out to Bahrain to attend the India-Arab League meeting of Foreign Ministers during January 23-24, to assess the fallout of Iran-Saudi hostilities on India.
“In the next twelve days, apart from the Israeli and Palestinian leaders, External Affairs Minister is scheduled to meet all the 22 foreign ministers of the Arab League which is significant since the Arab League is favouring Saudi Arabia in its tense confrontation with Iran,” a senior diplomatic source told The Hindu indicating that India is for a policy of engagement to balance ties with all regional stakeholders in the tense West Asia region.
The Hindu has reliably learnt that though the visit to Israel was expected, it probably was synergised with Saudi Arabia’s requests for deeper consultation with India, which finally will lead to back to back discussions with Israel and the member countries of the Arab League which is dominated by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) led by Saudi Arabia.
However, as The Hindu had earlier reported, Ms. Swaraj will also work on exchange of VVIP visits with West Asian and the Gulf regions during her trips. It is expected she will lay the ground work for an India-visit by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel. Sources also revealed that Ms. Swaraj will begin groundwork for a big ticket visit to Saudi Arabia from India to be undertaken shortly, during her trip to Bahrain. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is also expected to visit India by this summer.
Ms. Swaraj had visited Israel in 2008 as the leader of the Parliamentary delegation of MPs. Ms Swaraj’s visit to Israel had been talked about as the government of Prime Minister > Narendra Modi is perceived to be more pro-Israel than any previous governments. Diplomatic sources told The Hindu that the visit will provide an important opportunity to India to assess the state of the Palestinian movement and its place in India’s list of international priorities. The visits and interactions will highlight India’s desire to balance tense ties in West Asia as Ms Swaraj will leave for Israel-Arab outreach three days after hosting the Syrian foreign minister Walid Al-Moallem in Delhi.
Experts say that her meeting with the Foreign Ministers of the Arab League countries in the tense backdrop of Iran-Saudi hostility is reminiscent of 2001 meeting between External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh and Arab League Foreign Ministers in Cairo. “Like in 2016, Arab countries were worried in February 2001 because of growing tension between US and Iraq and global terrorism. So this season of diplomacy of Sushma Swaraj is a bit like Jaswant Singh’s diplomacy in 2001,” said Prof A.K. Pasha of JNU.