Amid host’s high hopes, Prime Minister Modi lands in Palestine on Saturday
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Ramallah, Palestine is being watched closely not only in Israel and the Arab world, but also in Pakistan
Prime Minister Narendra Modi begins his day-long visit to Palestine on Saturday morning, after an overnight stay in Jordan's capital Amman, where the Indian PM called on King Abdullah II, a major backer of the Palestinian cause in the Arab world.
Modi's trip, part of his three nation tour to Oman and the United Arab Emirates, has assumed historic proportions as it is being hailed as the first by a sitting Indian PM to Ramallah. Palestine's President Mahmoud Abbas has described Modi's visit to Ramallah as a "unique chance" to express appreciation of India's support for the Palestinian position on the Israel-Palestine dispute.
While India's burgeoning ties with Israel under the Modi government initially caused unease in Palestine and backers of the two-state solution in India, Palestine now sees an opportunity for India as a credible mediator in the peace process, owing to New Delhi's close ties with both Israel and Palestine.
Ahead of the visit, the 82-yea- old Abbas expressed hope during an interview with PTI, that India could play a role in the Palestine peace process. Palestine has been calling on major regional powers across the world to help broker peace in the longstanding dispute, saying that US was no longer a credible mediator since President Donald Trump's announcement of support for Jerusalem as Israel's capital in December.
"We will discuss the recent updates with Prime Minister Modi, and the recent developments in the peace process, the bilateral relations, and the regional situations. And the possible role India can play in enhancing peace in the region, as well as discussing different economical aspects beyond the existing ties we already possess," Abbas told PTI.
Palestine's Embassy in New Dehi told National Herald that India must use its good relations with Israel to help end the "Israeli occupation," an issue that it said will feature prominently in the bilateral discussions between Modi and Abbas.
"We hope that India will play an active role in the peace process, because India is a big and important country and also has good relations with Israel and with Palestine," said Dr Wael Albattrekhi, the Deputy Head of Mission at Palestine's Embassy in New Delhi.
He also said that Abbas would explain to Modi the repercussions of US President Donald Trump's declaration making Jerusalem as Israel capital.
However, experts believe that New Delhi may well not pursue the matter with the Israeli leadership of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, despite strong personal rapport between Netanyahu and Modi which was on display during the Israeli PM’s six-day visit to India in January.
"Israel won't listen to anyone on the peace process. Netanyahu also has to take care of his core right-wing constituency," defence expert Qamar Agha told NH.
Former MoS External Affairs Salman Haidar had this week told NH that the visit would reaffirm India's commitment to the two-state solution, which would be the wider diplomatic message that the Palestine visit would send to the Arab world.
“We will discuss the recent updates with Prime Minister Modi, and the recent developments in the peace process, the bilateral relations, and the regional situations. And the possible role India can play in enhancing peace in the region, as well as discussing different economical aspects beyond the existing ties we already possess,” said Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas
Over five million Indian nationals are employed in the Gulf region, which is also India's primary source of oil imports, making it an important region from perspective of India's foreign policy.
India's continued commitment to the Palestinian cause is believed to be crucial for maintaining friendly relations with the wider Arab world, despite major predominantly Muslim countries of the region also de-hyphenating their relations with Israel from Palestine, much like the approach India is taking.
PM Modi's visit to Ramallah is being watched closely not only in Israel and the Arab world, but also in Pakistan. There were calls in the Pakistani media urging Islamabad to take a cue from India and dehyphenate relations with Palestine from Israel.
“New Delhi’s tech relationship with Tel Aviv hasn’t gone unobserved and perhaps surprisingly, one country that has observed it and may imitate the relationship in the future is Pakistan,” a columnist wrote in The Nation. Israel and Pakistan have had no diplomatic relations whatsoever, even as Islamabad has enjoyed strong relations with Palestine.
On the agenda
The significance of Modi's visit isn't lost in Israeli media either, which is taking note of PM Modi’s upcoming visit to the Yasser Arafat Museum, where the India leader will lay a wreath at the tomb of the first president of the Palestinian National Authority. Modi will visit the museum on arrival at Ramallah, which will be followed by his meeting with Abbas and a joint press conference.
"At the level of bilateral relations, there will be a discussion of the formation of ministerial committees to implement the agreements and memorandums of understanding (MoUs) signed between the two countries during President Mahmoud Abbas state visit to India in May 2017," said Dr Wael Albattrekhi.
According to news reports, the Indian PM will also announce the setting-up of a 100-bed super specialty hospital in Ramallah.
No major political announcements are expected during the joint press conference, it is being reported.
Dr Albattrekhi further informed, "The development of health and tourism relations between the two countries will be discussed when the leaders meet on Saturday. The economic, trade and investment relations between Palestine and India will be on the agenda too."