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Why did Modi stay away from Palestine ?

In this handout photograph released by the Indian Press Information Bureau (PIB) on July 6, 2017, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Isreali Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu talk on Olga Beach in Hadera.  

Why was the Israel visit historic?

When Prime Minister Narendra Modi travelled to Israel this month, it was hailed as the first visit by an Indian Prime Minister there since the creation of Israel and India’s independence in 1947. It was also notable as he became the first senior Indian leader not to visit Palestinian areas or meet with Palestinian officials during the visit, or even mention Palestine publicly, overturning the primacy their cause has received from India over the past seven decades. In the only official reference to the conflict, the joint statement issued during Mr. Modi’s visit merely referred to the “Israel-Palestinian peace process,” not speaking of the two-state solution that India officially supports.

Why drop the trip to Palestine?

For the Israeli side, the visit from the Indian Prime Minister was in itself a major diplomatic victory as India was one of the first countries to recognise the state of Palestine in 1988. Given India’s consistent support to the recognition of Palestine, Mr. Modi’s visit signified even more than the visit of a close ally, like the U.S., and its importance was underscored in the way Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu dropped all plans for the three days Mr. Modi was in Israel. The significance of dropping Palestine from the visit wasn’t lost on the Israeli media either, which pointed out that even U.S. President Trump had visited Palestinian territory during his visit in May. When asked, Indian officials said the Prime Minister’s decision came from a desire to “de-hyphenate” relations with Israel and Palestine.

What will be the fallout?

India has many areas of cooperation with Israel, which could grow much further if India drops its “political baggage” of the past, even if that involves losing some leverage on the Palestinian side. For their part, Palestinian officials have been muted, with President Mahmoud Abbas’s diplomatic adviser Majdi Elkhaldi saying they hope the visit wouldn’t come “at the expense” of the ties with Palestine.

What is the message?

The Modi government is not unaware of what the shift could mean, and in a carefully coordinated campaign that began in 2015, the Prime Minister set out to woo all the countries in the region that could have looked askance at India’s shift away from traditional support to Palestine, including Iran, Israel’s chief rival. In May this year, he invited Mr. Abbas and gave him a warm welcome in New Delhi. Finally, the government chose dates for the Israel visit when the Palestinian leadership could definitely not host Mr. Modi, given that Mr. Abbas would be away on foreign visits. Many foreign policy analysts also see Mr. Modi’s visit as the ending of India’s ‘non-aligned movement (NAM)’ stance that the NDA government has made a decided shift from, underlined by his decision not to attend the NAM summit in Venezuela last year.

The decision to drop Palestine from his itinerary may have historical underpinnings for the BJP-led government as well, as the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) has long proposed closer links between Israel and India. Hindu Mahasabha president Veer Savarkar broke with Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru by supporting the right of “Jews to their homeland” in Israel, as did the then RSS chief Golwalkar.

What are the ties now?

In modern times, and especially since India established full diplomatic ties with Israel in 1992, the links between the two countries have run a steadily increasing course of engagement, and Israel is now one of India’s top most defence suppliers, while India is Israel’s tenth biggest trading partner. What’s more, while most Indians would baulk at comparisons between Kashmir and Palestine, they see a role for cooperation in counter-terrorism, something Israeli forces are acclaimed for, while young Indian students increasingly seek ties with Israel on technology, start-ups and innovations. It is for all these reasons and more that Mr. Modi and the government decided to forge India’s relationship with Israel in exclusion of its previous position on the centrality of the Palestinian question.


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Printable version | Jan 26, 2022 5:19:03 PM |

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