In a significant move, South Block is “actively considering” to schedule a stand-alone bilateral visit by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s to Israel and not to Palestine on the same trip, sources have told The Indian Express. This will be a radical departure from what has been the convention on the part of top Indian leaders, who have visited both countries during their visits. In the past, External Affairs Ministers from both BJP and Congress have visited both Israel and Palestine on the same trip. This included Jaswant Singh in 2000, S M Krishna in 2012 and Sushma Swaraj in 2016 – all of them visited both Israel and Palestine. Even President Pranab Mukherjee, who visited Israel in October 2015 – in the first Presidential visit from India since 1992 – also visited both Israel and Palestine.
Modi, sources said, is keen to delink relations with the two countries. He made this clear in his first months in office, sources privy to some of these discussions, told The Indian Express. Some officials had even baulked at the suggestion and advised to the contrary then, sources said. Sources said that the ground has been prepared by ministerial visits over the last two years, so that a de-hyphenation is clearer. Minister of State (External Affairs) M J Akbar visited Palestine in November last year, along with Jordan, but did not visit Israel.
Similarly, Home Minister Rajnath Singh visited Israel in November 2014, but did not pay a visit to Palestine. Government sources, however, told The Indian Express that since there have been no Prime Minister-level visits to Israel and Palestine so far there is no set precedent. Since this is going to be the 25th year of India’s diplomatic relations with Israel, New Delhi wants to break away from the past and give a greater visibility to the relationship with Israel without being defensive about it, officials said.
National Security Advisor Ajit Doval’s meetings with Israel PM Benjamin Netanyahu and top Israeli officials, this week, sources said, was a preparatory meeting to firm up the schedule in the next few months. Netanyahu is also expected to visit this year and so is Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. As of now, dates for a possible bilateral visit by Modi are being worked out. But there are two concrete possible windows of opportunity.
First, since Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be visiting Hamburg in Germany for the G-20 summit on July 7-8, he is likely to visit Israel either before or after. So, it could be either July 5-6 or July 9-10. Second, Modi is expected to travel to Germany on May 28-29 for intergovernmental consultations, which happens once in two years. And, he has to attend the St Petersburg International Economic Forum in Russia from June 1 to 3. Officials say that there is a possibility of visiting Israel in between the two visits – on May 30, or after Russia, that is, on, June 4 to 6, before he heads to Kazakhstan for the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit.
The third possibility is end of June, sources said, when Modi may go there for the bilateral visit. But, as of now, the early July window is the most likely time period when he will be able to visit Israel, sources indicated. A formal political decision and announcement is expected in the next few weeks.