It seems only fair that the first Indian prime minister to visit Israel is Narendra Modi of the BJP.
The party had, even when it was in the Opposition, advocated closer ties to Israel, a nation much admired by the BJP and the Sangh Parivar for its aggressive defence capabilities and disproportionate retaliation for every missile launched from Palestinian soil.
In the hubbub surrounding Modi's visit, former prime minister PV Narasimha Rao is almost forgotten. It was Rao, ever the pragmatist, who decided to improve relations with with Israel in 1992, at the end of the Cold War.
So he should be given some credit, especially as the Congress party since Independence had been a forceful advocate of Palestinian rights and Rao’s decision would have shocked several party stalwarts.
Israel prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu is going all out to make Modi’s visit — to mark 25 years of diplomatic ties — a memorable one. He will receive Modi at the airport, which he has done only for US president Donald Trump. Remember, the US is Israel's closest ally. Netanyahu will also accompany Modi everywhere during the trip.
In fact, there has been so much focus on the Modi visit, that Israel’s well respected newspaper Haaretz, wondered if India was to replace the US as Tel Aviv’s major ally: "Judging by the multiple ‘promo’ articles in the Indian and Israel press pre-announcing the visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Israel in July 2017, India could be Israel’s greatest ally. Uncertain of President Trump’s stand on several key issues, will 'redemption' come to Jerusalem via New Delhi?"
And the same piece goes on to say: "Indeed, the stakes are high. Israel has already signed on its largest deal in history: a $2 billion defense agreement (reportedly, $1.6 billion for Israel Aerospace Industries and $0.4 billion for Rafael, a a state-owned defense company) by which India will purchase anti-missile systems and
components made in Israel.’’
Yet despite the friendship and the hype around it, Modi will need to balance relations with Israel with that of other Gulf countries. The tight rope walk that India has always done since 1992, will continue to be Delhi’s focus. Modi knows that well and has drawn red lines.
In interviews ahead of the visit, the prime minister made it clear that on certain issues, he would not completely break from the past. When asked if India would shift its embassy to Jerusalem by an Israeli newspaper that was pro-government, unlike Trump, who promised he would do so during the election, Modi gave a categorical no.
Modi also stuck to Delhi’s line on the Palestinian issue: "India believes in a two-state solution in which both Israel and a future Palestinian state coexist peacefully," he said on Monday.
He went on to say: "A final-status agreement should respect the sentiments and address demands of all affected parties," he added. So despite India’s close ties with Israel, it is not as if Delhi is going to ignore Palestine or the Gulf countries.
There has been much talk about breaking with convention and making the trip to Israel a stand-alone visit. It had been mandatory for all Indian leaders to visit both Israel and Palestine. President Pranab Mukherjee as well as Vice-President Hamid Ansari had done so.
While Modi is not visiting Palestine, India had invited President Mahmoud Abbas to Delhi in May and again reiterated Delhi’s support for a Palestinian state. Despite Modi's desire to expand ties with Israel and upgrade it to perhaps a strategic partnership, Modi has not neglected the Gulf nations. He has invested both time and effort and established a rapport with the ruling families of Saudi Arabi, Qatar, and UAE and has visited each of these countries.
Considering over seven million Indians live and work out of the region and send back remittances fluctuating between $35 and $4o billion annually, the Arab states cannot be ignored.
The bulk of India’s oil supplies and 80 percent of its natural gas is imported from the region. So Modi knows that he cannot tilt completely towards Israel without offending key Arab leaders. Though the Arab states have paid mere lip service to the Palestinian cause in the last two decades, a complete change of India’s policy towards Palestine will not go down well in the region. It will be interpreted as part of the the BJP government’s anti-Muslim stand.
Leaders of the region are also aware that Kashmir, India’s only Muslim majority state, is on the boil as street protests take on the BJP-PDP government in Srinagar. Despite the violence and the crackdown by the authorities in Kashmir, the Gulf leaders, have not so far made many statements on the situation in Kashmir.
In the early days, there would have been an outpouring of concern from every Arab capital on the Valley. More significant has been the cooperation of both Saudi Arabia and the UAE in getting terror suspects back from these countries.
Published Date: Jul 05, 2017 06:46 am | Updated Date: Jul 05, 2017 06:46 am