With Ramallah announcing that Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas will visit India in May, the Indian Ministry of External Affairs has confirmed that Prime Minister Narendra Modi will tour Israel in June only after hosting the Palestinian leader in New Delhi.
Earlier, a number of opposition leaders in India criticised Modi for not visiting Palestine since becoming prime minister in May 2014. Modi’s decision to skip Palestine (while he visits Israel) is a break from the tradition of senior Indian leaders who usually club two countries in the same trip.
A couple of days ago, a senior External Affairs Ministry official said that the Indian PM would not visit Palestine in June because he would host President Abbas before his visit to Israel. “Discussions are underway to finalise the dates, most probably for the second half of the month,” added the official who wished to remain anonymous.
The official informed the media that India, despite sharing strong defence ties with Israel, had no plan to snap ties with Palestine. He explained that India-Palestine relations are very delicate mainly because of the South Asian country’s close ties with the Arab world. Claiming that India still supports the Palestinian cause, he stressed that New Delhi had to work hard to balancing its ties with Palestine and Israel. In fact, according to the official, India has kept its ties with Israel low profile in public for the last 27 years due to its position on the Palestinian issue. Otherwise, defence and security ties between India and Israel have been steadily increasing since mid 1990s.
Prime Minister Modi has made one thing clear: India considers both Palestine and Israel as friends and wants the two parties to resolve their outstanding issues through peaceful negotiation. At the same time, the premier has admitted that Israel becomes India’s biggest defence partner and it is not possible for India to tackle terrorism without Israel’s help.
Commenting on PM Modi’s decision to skip Palestine during his upcoming visit to Israel, the official said that Pranab Mukherjee had become the first Indian president to visit Israel in October 2015. Before his arrival in Israel for a three-day visit, the Indian president made a stop in Palestine. However, Mukherjee’s itinerary sent a wrong signal to the global community and Western nations described Indian foreign policy as “opportunist”. Prime Minister Modi does not want to commit the same mistake as he knows that India’s relations with Palestine and Israel are sensitive. The official urged the global community to not forget the purpose of the PM’s visit to Israel. Modi plans to visit Israel in June only to take part in events to be organised to mark the 25th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties between the two countries.
The official once again assured the international community that there would be no change in India’s commitment to the Palestine cause and Prime Minister Modi would convey the message to President Abbas in May. Recalling that the Modi government created the “first ever India-Palestine joint commission” that is co-chaired by Indian Minister of State for External Affairs M J Akbar, he told the press that President Abbas’ upcoming visit to New Delhi would give India another opportunity to boost ties with Palestine.
Indian foreign policy experts are of the opinion that West Asian nations accept the New Delhi-Tel Aviv friendship because many of them would like an accommodation with the Jewish State. Reports suggest that some Arab countries, like Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, “have started making quiet, behind-the-scenes contact with the government of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu”. The US and other major powers’ decision to sign a nuclear treaty with Iran in January 2016 encouraged them to “normalise” their ties with Israel.
In an article published in the ‘Hindustan Times’ daily on March 29, Bobby Ghosh said that the Arab world was well aware of PM Modi’s Israel visit and they did not raise eyebrows. “Also no Arab State has voiced any displeasure, not publicly, and not even through diplomatic back-channels,” he stressed, adding: “The Arab pococurantism over deepening Indo-Israeli relations is a resigned acceptance that the two countries have much in common, including their enemies, in the shape of Islamist terrorism.”
Ghosh explained: “Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and most other Arab states have no formal relations with Israel. Most of them don’t even acknowledge Israel’s right to exist. So, if PM Modi does hear from Arab rulers before his visit to Israel, it may very well be in the form of requests to convey cautious felicitations. And it’s just conceivable that Netanyahu will want Modi to carry a message for Saudi King Salman, who is expected to visit New Delhi later in the year.”