Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Palestine, the first by an Indian Prime Minister, completes the triangle that began with his visit to Israel last year. But it will also underline that India has successfully de-hyphenated its policy in West Asia. The visit has been so arranged that Modi will enter Ramallah, the de facto working capital of the Palestinian state, via Jordan rather than through Israel. The Indian side has sought to emphasise that the dehyphenation, and the consequent scaling up of ties with Israel, do not mean a lessening of New Delhi’s support for the Palestinian cause. It is somewhat odd, then, that the Indian side has sought to describe this, according to reports, as a “non-political” visit during which the focus will be on humanitarian measures. India is likely to announce the setting up of a 100-bed super speciality hospital, and schools in Ramallah, and capacity building projects.
No visit to Palestine can be described as “non-political”. In December, India made a choice at the United Nations General Assembly that made its backing for the Palestinian state quite clear. Prime Minister Modi must follow that up with a robust statement of support for the two-state solution during this visit. Such a statement, delivered on Palestinian territory to the Palestinian leadership, will make this first prime ministerial visit truly historic, and remove any vestige of doubt about the Modi government’s position. It will be a fitting way to reaffirm a friendship that began a year after India’s independence and has been nurtured by different government in New Delhi through the ups and downs of world politics. In the last few years, there have been efforts to characterise this relationship as nothing more than a nod to domestic constituencies, but this is an ahistorical reading. India has also demonstrated enough clear-eyed realism in the post-Cold War years by steadily building its relations with Israel. Those who expressed concern that India’s Jerusalem vote would endanger Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to India weeks afterwards now know that zero sum games are passe.
The Prime Minister will also swing through two other countries in the region, the United Arab Emirates and Oman, both vital to India’s economic and strategic interests. Aside from the Indian expatriate community in both countries that makes significant contributions to inward remittances, Prime Minister Modi is likely to make efforts to woo investments in infrastructure and housing. India imports only about 8 per cent of its oil requirements from the UAE. But the bilateral oil partnership got a boost with an agreement, sealed during Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan’s Republic Day visit, under which the UAE would supply some portion of India’s emergency oil reserves. India and Oman conduct joint military exercises. Combining these two countries with the visit to Palestine will help to consolidate India’s ties with the Arab world.