Indian PM’s first ever visit to Palestine
TOPIC: General Studies 2
- India and its neighbourhood- relations.
- Bilateral, regional and global groupings and agreements involving India and/or affecting India’s interests
In news: Narendra Modi was first Indian PM to visit Palestine.
Importance: This comes in backdrop of India’s steady improvement in relationship with Israel. Palestine and Israel are part of west Asia which hold significant geopolitical importance for India. Improvement in India-Israel ties is seen as a major landmark in country’s diplomatic history given India’s proximity with Palestine for several decades.
Historical ties between India and Palestine
Even before independence during freedom struggle, Gandhiji had supported that Palestine belongs to Palestinians. India opposed the partition plan of the UN in 1947 and was against Israel’s admission to UN as India was in favour of federal Palestine where both the communities could live peacefully. Later however, Israel was recognized and its consulate was allowed in India. There were minimal interactions in terms of intelligence sharing, irrigation, and scientific cooperation.
But, it was not opportune for India to visit Palestine due to the developments that took place over last three decades to allow fostering of direct relations between India and Palestine. Today, the situation is different from what it was at the time when Palestinians and the arabs did not even agree to right of Israel to exist. India still continues to support the Palestinian cause because after 1988, they gave up the arms struggle themselves, recognized UN resolution 242 and Israeli right to exit and stop violence. So India supported the diplomatic initiative and this visit it to encourage them to go forward in the peaceful resolution of the conflict.
What has changed?
Fundamentally, the geopolitics has changed and approach the region has evolved. India is not looking to Palestine from prism of south-south solidarity. India has historical ties which it has to preserve. Now India is looking at forward looking relationship and built capacity in a potential Palestinian state. The regional geopolitics allows India to move into Middle East or west Asia where in recent times, PM has gone to Saudi arabia, UAE, Qatar, oman etc.
Purpose of visit to Palestine
To show to the world that despite good relations with Israel, the association with Palestine is no less. India is doing what is best for its domestic as well as diplomatic interest. India is asserting its foreign policy is independent of any third country influence.
It is significant to have balanced ties with both the nations as India aspires to see the region in peace, security and stability, India has core interest in GCC countries, particularly in energy sector from where oil and gas comes. There are 7 million Indians employed there who send billions of dollars as remittance. There is trade worth 100 billion dollars for GCC countries. Along with it, there is food security- Chemical fertilizers like phosphate come from Oman, Jordan and other North African countries. India’s potential to link its gulf interest, strategic interest and economic and political interest from gulf to Israel which is the broader issue of violence, terrorism and instability.
Palestine signed the Oslo process with Israel in 1993 but not much happened. Egypt has had peace with Israel since 1979. Jordon also has peace treaty with Israel. And Palestinians are still with Israelis despite difference in interpretation of Oslo treaty.
The new geopolitical reality which the Indian decision makers are trying to capture is the new warming up of indirect relations with Saudi Arabia-Israel and UAE-Israel.
Should India mediate?
Never. Major Powers have burnt their fingers in trying to mediate in an intractable issue. No purpose and national interest will be served if India tries to mediate. Over the decades, there is a shift from ideological based foreign policy to policy based on interest. Today, India has no reluctance in saying that it pursues its interests.
India needs to pursue a policy of developing direct bilateral ties with all countries of west Asia. This is the right way whereby India’s interest is served by keeping the politics of west Asia away.
How long India will be able to be friends with Palestine, Israel and Iran?
It is a significant question for all countries riding on American presence in the region. This is a significant development that now US is not importing but exporting oil to middle east. This speaks volumes about changing geopolitics of region.
India’s help to Palestine
PM inaugurated India-Palestine diplomatic institute. It is a major initiative to train Palestinian diplomats. This is similar to what India’s gift of parliament building to Afghans. Though US has spoken adversely about contribution to UNRWA relief fund on which most of the Palestinian refugees are dependent, India has announced 1.25 million dollars. These two assistance programmes make important contribution in increasing India-Palestine relationship to stronger one. Now the focus is to enhance India’s assistance in Palestinian nation building process by extending help to build infrastructure and develop skills in areas of health, information technology, education, agriculture and sports.
The dynamism of the region changing very rapidly and the changing equation in the Middle East is reality. Cold war is a relic of history post 2010, there is a new west Asia. The countries are trying to find their own equations. The major issue in west Asia is between sunni arab states and the shia states. The Palestine issue is a legacy issue. It no longer excites the arabs. At present, the arab countries are softening their attitude towards Israel. The number of countries are willing to engage with Israel is increasing.
India’s approach to consider its foreign policy on individual basis and not see through third party prism is a critical step in approaching global platform in a steady and stable manner.
Connecting the dots:
- India and Palestine relationship is at critical juncture considering India’s growing relationship with Israel. Critically analyse.