Mahmoud Abbas’s visit signifies India's desire to maintain cordial ties with both Israel, Palestine

Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas landed in New Delhi late Sunday night, starting his four-day state visit. Though he has visited India five times before, this is his first visit when a BJP government is in power. The Congress had historically supported the Palestinian cause, while the BJP had always been closer to Israel. Yet, successive Indian governments had always trodden a tightrope, maintaining its ties with both Israel and Palestine. So much so, that any state visit to Israel had also included time in the Palestinian territory.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, however, is now set to break this tradition. He will be the first Indian prime minister to visit Israel. Moreover, his Israel visit, in about four months time, will be a standalone one – Palestine is not on the agenda.

File image of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. AFP

File image of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. AFP

To maintain the balance ahead of his trip, Abbas has been invited to India. Despite Modi and BJP's natural inclination towards Israel, the prime minister has invested time and energy in cementing closer ties with other Gulf countries. He has already visited UAE, Saudi Arabia and Qatar and has established a rapport with the ruling families.

While announcing Abbas's visit, India reiterated its support for the Palestinian cause. "India and Palestine enjoy historically close and friendly ties. Apart from the political support to the Palestinian cause, India continues to support development projects in Palestine by extending technical and financial assistance," the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) had said in a statement.

But the fact is, support for the Palestinian cause has been more of a formality. India cannot be faulted though as most Arab states themselves have over the years merely extended lip service to the Palestinian cause.

Now, however, US president Donald Trump is talking about exploring a permanent solution to the Israel-Palestine dispute, which has long blotted the region. The focus of the world will once again shift towards peace talks if Trump seriously embarks on a peace mission. As a presidential candidate, he had threatened to move the US embassy to Jerusalem, but nothing has materialised as of now. He is still considering the pros and cons of such a move.

If Trump goes ahead with the move, chances of talks on a permanent solution to the crisis will fizzle out. Abbas will not be in a position to begin peace talks if the US signals its support to Israel by shifting its embassy. Palestinians, who believe in the two-nation theory, have always dreamt of Jerusalem as the new capital.

The two-nation theory envisages an independent State of Palestine alongside the State of Israel. The boundary between the two states, however, is the subject of dispute.

Abbas travelled to Washington for a meeting with Trump on 3 May. During their meet, the US president talked of a peace deal but details of what he had in mind have not been disclosed. According to reports in US media, Trump made the point that Washington could at best be a facilitator and that the Palestinians and Israelis must work together to reach an agreement.

A desperate Abbas is reported to have said: "We rely totally on God Almighty, then on you and we promise to be true partners to achieve a historic peace agreement." That statement did not go down well among Palestinians.

During Abbas's meeting with Modi, slated for Tuesday, the Palestinian leader is expected to give him a heads up on the talks with the US president and the general situation in the West Asia region. Earlier, the Palestinians were keen to involve India in the peace process. New Delhi, historically, has not been keen to get entangled in the complications.

But now, in 2017, the situation is very different. India is hoping to extend its footprints in the region and having excellent ties with both Israel and Palestine, Modi may see things differently – if one more such request comes in from Abbas.

Abbas and Modi will sign several deals "on cooperation in various areas", the foreign ministry said, without providing details. On Monday, Abbas will give an address at the Islamic Centre. He will also visit an IT centre in Noida. India is building a tech park in Palestine.

The formal part of his visit will be on Tuesday, where he will inspect a guard of honour and be welcomed formally by President Pranab Mukherjee in the forecourt of Rashtrapati Bhavan. The president will also hold a banquet for Abbas.

Mukherjee had visited Palestine and Israel in 2015. The minister of external affairs, Sushma Swaraj, and Indian vice president Hamid Ansari will also call on Abbas on Tuesday.

Updated Date: May 16, 2017 09:28 AM

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