The Modi administration, in what is being termed as "bold" and a "historic" visit, has decided to de-hyphenate Israel and Palestine and engage with both nations separately. While many believed that the Indian prime minister and his government will shift course, after the BJP came to power in 2014, from the traditional line that India always took on Palestine, the decision to vote in favour of Palestine at the UN and now the visit has infused hope and confidence in Ramallah.
Not only has a strong foreign policy decision been made, but also the highest level of the Indian leadership has “belled the cat”, taking on the daunting task of visiting Ramallah.
For many years, India’s visit to Israel and Palestine at the highest level were given a miss keeping in mind the "sensitivities" involved. And then in 2017, breaking away from past trappings, Prime Minister Modi took the bold decision to visit Israel – visit Israel alone without touching Palestine, which made many question India’s stand. Have we given up on Palestine? Is this a shift in India’s foreign policy? These were the common refrain. Clearly not.
Certain sections in India hailed the Israel visit as one where India has charted out a new course for itself without pandering to the “appeasement” brigade and reaching out to Muslims… Until reality set in.
India understood the importance of balancing ties and accounting for the important role Arab nations play in India’s economic growth story which led to the announcement of his “stand-alone” visit to Palestine.
But many still ask, will Modi stay the course on India’s support to the Palestinian cause?
India’s defence and security ties with Israel is growing exponentially. And the strong Jewish lobby certainly can help India’s case against Pakistan in the United States. But then again, Israel also has great relations with China. A nation that sides with Pakistan even if all odds are against the latter. Either Israel can be an influencer or despite strong Sino-Israel ties, China can continue to support Pakistan.
The Arab world, on the other hand, is a stabilising factor providing jobs and is a major source of energy for India. But here again, terrorism and security matters sometimes adversely impact India’s interests.
If India is trying to be transactional in its dealings with the nations of this region, then the decision to stay the course works in India’s favour.
There is a strong opinion growing in Palestine that with the disruptive role that the US has played on the issue of Jerusalem and with the closeness that Modi shares with Benjamin Netanyahu, India could be an influencer rather than a disruptor.
But both Israel and Palestine also realise that the Modi era is finite. Hence, what is important is to ensure a continuum in the foreign policy rather than a hasty shift that could spoil India’s equilibrium in the region.
Interestingly, both Israel and Palestine are calling the outreach a “love affair”, neither unable to fathom why is Modi giving the time of day to the other.
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