For A ‘Free’ Palestine

“India hopes that soon Palestine will become a free country in a peaceful manner.”
Visiting Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi made the comment in Ramallah on February 9, as he visited the ‘de jure sovereign state’ in West Asia to make it clear that New Delhi is balancing its ties with Palestine and Israel. He hinted that India would like to maintain ‘cordial’ relations with both the countries.
India had recognised Palestine’s sovereignty three decades ago. However, no Indian premier visited the country since then. So, Modi’s visit to Ramallah was a historic one. He spent three hours in the Palestinian city after his arrival there from the Jordanian capital of Amman. A Royal Jordanian chopper and an Israeli Air Force helicopter escorted Modi’s chopper from Amman to Ramallah, where he was received by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

From the helipad, PM Modi went straight to the mausoleum of iconic Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to lay a wreath. After completing his first engagement on the historic visit to Palestine, he held a meeting with President Abbas to discuss various important bilateral, regional and global issues.
In a statement, the Indian Ministry of External Affairs said the PM assured Abbas that the Indo-Israeli ties would never affect the Indo-Palestinian relations. Later, senior officials of the two countries signed six pacts worth around USD 50 million in presence of the two leaders. According to the statement, India would be setting up a USD 30 million super speciality hospital in Beit Sahur.

President Abbas, too, described PM Modi’s visit as an important one, saying: “We have said and will say we are ready to engage in negotiations (with Israel). We rely on India’s role as an international force and its role in the non-alignment movement and in the international fora, in a way that is conducive to desired peace in our region.” He further said: “Here I would like to assert our commitment to political action and negotiations as means of achieving our national goals to freedom and independence in accordance with the two states’ relation along the lines of 1967.”
India has been sympathetic towards Palestine since 1948 when Israel declared Independence, suppressing the rights of Palestinian people. Despite not being a state, Palestine was able to become a member of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) in 1974 mainly because of India’s strong support. When Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) leader Yasser Arafat launched the Intifada – the Palestinian uprising against Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip that lasted from 1987 to 1993, India backed the move. Arafat received a warm welcome in New Delhi from then Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in May 1982.

Arafat with Indira Gandhi

However, PM Modi’s historic visit to Israel in 2017 triggered a speculation that India might have changed its policy towards Palestine. In the last one year, India has not only strengthened ties with Israel, but also with the US. Despite maintaining cordial ties with the two, New Delhi surprised the global community in December 2017 by voting in favour of a resolution brought by Turkey and Yemen in the UN, opposing the US’ decision recognising Jerusalem as the capital of the Jewish state. In Ramallah, Modi once again sent the same message: New Delhi has made no changes in its old position on the Palestinian issue. When Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited the South Asian country last month, the Modi government made a strong indication that it would balance India’s ties with the two countries.

“We have de-hyphenated our relations with Palestine and Israel. Now we see them both as mutually independent and exclusive and as part of this policy, the prime minister is undertaking this visit,” clarified B Bala Bhaskar, the Joint Secretary in the External Affairs Ministry.

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