Narendra Modi’s visit to Palestine, the first by an Indian Prime Minister, is a reflection of the new paradigm in India’s foreign policy, which seeks to de-hyphenate the relations with Palestine and Israel. This outreach is truly a historic milestone in the bilateral relationship that has stood the test of time. The standalone visit to one of the turbulent hotspots of the Middle East is a sign of maturity in balancing the geopolitical interests and crafting pragmatic policies that go beyond the stereotypical binaries. This allows India to maintain an unwavering moral support for Palestinian self-determination and at the same time to engage in military, economic and strategic relations with a highly advanced nation like Israel. A red carpet welcome, an extraordinary sense of warmth and bonhomie, receiving Palestine’s highest civilian honour given to a foreigner and signing a string of bilateral agreements marked Modi’s visit to Ramallah from Amman in a chopper provided by the Jordan government. Despite deepening the military and strategic cooperation with Israel, India has steadfastly stood by the Palestinian cause. New Delhi favours a two-state solution through negotiations in which both Israel and a future Palestinian State can coexist peacefully, a position reiterated by Modi during his interactions with the Palestinian leadership. At a time when there was a concern in some diplomatic circles that India was getting too close to Israel, giving a handle to Pakistan to exploit the situation, the visit could help put those anxieties to rest.
Historically, India has been consistent in its support to the Palestinian cause. In fact, it was the first non-Arab country to recognise the Palestine Liberation Organization as the sole representative of Palestinians, and it also recognised the State of Palestine at the time of its declaration of independence in 1988. Last December, India voted in favour of a UN General Assembly resolution that declared United States President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital to be null and void. However, this has not stopped India from broadening the engagement with Israel, signifying the triumph of pragmatism over political symbolism. Modi’s visit to Tel Aviv last year, the first by an Indian Prime Minister, was loaded with geopolitical significance and marked the first serious attempt at the highest level to deepen bilateral engagement with a country that always evokes mixed domestic reactions. Last month, New Delhi hosted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and signed several key agreements with the Jewish State. In the rapidly changing world driven by knowledge-based economies, Israel can be a useful partner in development, given its technological prowess and military superiority. The bilateral cooperation has increased manifold over the years, particularly in the fields of defence, intelligence sharing, agriculture and science and technology.