Mr. Modi in Israel: He reaffirms special ties

While welcoming Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Tel Aviv, his Israeli counterpart, Benjamin Netanyahu, said his country had awaited the visit for “seventy years”. Since the birth in 1948 of Israel, whose admission to the UN India subsequently opposed, Israeli leaders had always sought full diplomatic ties. And once the Narasimha Rao government established full diplomatic ties in 1992, Israel pushed for full acknowledgement of bilateral relations on the international stage. As a result, the significance of Mr. Modi’s visit to Israel, as the first Indian Prime Minister there, was the trip itself. This was reflected in the camaraderie between the two Prime Ministers, who spent practically every waking moment together. The agreements signed during the visit, on water, agriculture, space and science and technology, are important no doubt, but not path-breaking. They simply underscore ongoing cooperation in such fields — as well as in the defence sector, India being one of the biggest buyers of Israeli military equipment. Cooperation on cybersecurity issues, discussed by officials during Mr. Modi’s visit, constitutes a breakthrough of sorts, given that Israel tends to limit cooperation in this area to a few countries. A decision was announced to upgrade ties to a strategic partnership, signalling a final step to total normalisation of relations. Perhaps this is why Mr. Modi’s address to Israelis of Indian origin in Tel Aviv, with a promise to address visa issues and improve air connectivity, had an emotional pitch different from his meetings with the diaspora elsewhere in the world.

However, the best friendships are judged not just by bilateral bonhomie, but by the ability to discuss uncomfortable issues. With Mr. Modi’s visit India has, for all purposes, de-hyphenated its ties with Israel and Palestine, something Israel has always wanted. In a clear repudiation of the Indian practice of keeping Palestinian leaders prominently in the loop, Mr. Modi made a point of not visiting the Occupied Territories. The departure was more prominent in the joint statement, that contained a short paragraph on the “Israel-Palestine” peace process, with no reference to UN resolutions, the two-state solution, or even the need to resume talks, that Mr. Modi had spoken of during the visit of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to India just a couple of months ago. It would have been more in keeping with India’s stature on the international stage, and its particular leverage with all players in West Asia especially on Palestine, had Mr. Modi made a visible attempt to extract from Israel a commitment to the peace process. India’s evolving ties with Israel no doubt are based on pragmatism and the desire to eschew hypocrisy — but Mr. Modi has infused his visit with a symbolism and substance that could well mark a point of departure in India’s moral support to the Palestinian cause. By way of comparison, U.S. President Donald Trump visited Palestine too when he went to Israel in May.

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Printable version | Oct 23, 2020 9:27:55 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/on-modis-israel-visit/article19225761.ece

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