Can India gain from PM Modi’s whirlwind visit to Palestine?

Given the United States’ decreasing influence in Palestine and the larger Middle East under President Donald Trump, India could play a bigger role in mediation between Israel and Palestine

Photo courtesy: Twitter.com/PMOIndia
Photo courtesy: Twitter.com/PMOIndia
user

Soroor Ahmed

A visit to Palestine by an Indian Prime Minister––or of any other country, for that matter–– has little to do with the usual bilateral exchanges including trade, purchase of arms, boosting tourism, inviting investments, or cooperating in anti-terror operations. Bilaterals with Palestine can only be in the fields of education, health, infrastructure and technology. India has made some investments in these areas in Palestine and now these will increase further. There is little for India to get in return.

This limited scope of the relationship is because Israel still refuses to recognise the two-nation formula. Underscoring this ground reality is the fact that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had to land in the Jordanian capital Amman, from where he was taken by helicopter escorted by the Israeli Air Force to Ramallah in Palestine, as the Palestinian Authority does not have its own airport. Ramallah is 10 km from Jerusalem, claimed by both Israel and Palestine as their capital.

In contrast, both India and Israel have huge business investments and opportunities with each other. These two countries further cemented their ties in meetings between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi in July 2017 and January this year, when the two visited each other’s capitals.

If Palestine has no such material attraction, what prompted Modi to visit Ramallah seven months after he became the first Indian PM to land in Jerusalem? As global diplomacy has more to do with mutual trade and commerce, the importance of Palestine cannot be ignored in the changing international situation, especially in the Middle East and North Africa.

While the Israel-United States relationship has improved significantly after the recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of the Jewish state by President Donald Trump on December 6 2017, elsewhere in the region the clout of Washington is declining. By recognising Jerusalem as its capital, Trump has landed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and other moderate Palestinian leaders in a fix. The entire region now sees the United States as one-sided in favour of Israel. It can no longer claim the position of an impartial mediator. It is in the interest of Israel and the United States to maintain the distance between the Palestinian Authority which effectively controls the West Bank in Palestine, and Gaza, under the control of Hamas, and considered to be close to Iran, whose President Hassan Rouhani, is to visit India a few weeks later.

Before Modi’s trip, [Palestinian President Mahmoud] Abbas said the US cannot play the role of mediator any longer, and only a multi-lateral forum can do so. India, which has made efforts to improve ties with both Israel and Palestine, has an important role to play. Only time will tell whether Modi’s brief trip will achieve that purpose

Meanwhile, the Iranian-backed regime in Syria has almost won the civil war, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey is asserting himself and Hamas, in spite of the Gaza blockade, is not only still surviving but is likely to increase its influence even in the Palestinian Authority in the post-Abbas days. The Palestinian President is already in his 80s. Russia has also dramatically stepped up its involvement in the region. All these developments have further reduced the US’ mediation capabilities in the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

India, as per it’s long-standing foreign policy, voted against Trump’s unilateral decision recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in the United Nations late last year. At the same time, Modi and Netanyahu have expanded Israeli-India ties. In the three-hour short trip, PM Modi may seem to have had little more to offer than what India already has in the last 70 years for the Palestinian cause. He lauded the contributions of the chairman of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, Yasser Arafat, and laid emphasis on peace in the region. Modi’s brief trip was just an extension of the policy already enunciated by India.

However, before Modi’s trip, Abbas said the US cannot play the role of mediator any longer, and only a multi-lateral forum can do so. India, which has made efforts to improve ties with both Israel and Palestine, has an important role to play. Only time will tell whether Modi’s brief trip will achieve that purpose.

Follow us on: Facebook, Twitter, Google News

Join our official telegram channel (@nationalherald) and stay updated with the latest headlines