BY: ZAID MUGHAL
India, under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, is making new strides in its foreign policy. In a historic first, PM Modi’s visit to Palestine is not just an outreach in the Middle East, but a move to offset the recent criticism over the waves of sectarian violence in India. Modi’s momentous visit to Palestine is a master stroke in India’s Foreign policy towards West Asia. Modi is the first Prime Minister of India to make an official visit to Palestine since then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s visit to the Gaza strip, when it was under Egyptian control. Not only did India vote against the 1947 UN Partition Plan for Palestine, but it also voted against Israel’s admission to the UN in 1949, not recognizing it as a state until 1950. Even though the country’s growing ties with Israel have indicated a move away from Palestine, India reassured Palestine of its commitment to the Palestinian cause.
With a message of peace in the region, Modi reassured his Palestinian counterpart, Mahmoud Abbas, of India’s commitment to securing the interests of the Palestinian people. This visit also witnessed an exchange of key bilateral agreements between India and Palestine. The agreements pledged an Indian investment of $50 million, which will include setting up a hospital, a center for women’s empowerment, procurement of equipment and machinery for a printing press as well as investments in the education sector.
Modi’s visit to Palestine comes a year after his visit to Israel, where his decision to forego taking a trip to Ramallah raised eyebrows. The timing of his visit to Palestine is critical as it was preceded by the tensions in the region when United States President Donald Trump unilaterally recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. However, this recognition was condemned by the international community with 128 member states of the General Assembly of United Nations, including India, denouncing the move.
The history of Indian – Palestinian relations dates back to the time when India itself was struggling for freedom from the British Empire. Since then India has stood in solidarity with the Palestinian people and has been empathetic toward the Palestinian cause.
India, after its independence and following the lead of the international community, exhibited firm support of the Palestinian cause and this continued as an integral part of Indian foreign policy. India was the first non-Arab state to recognize the Palestinian Liberation Organization as the sole and legitimate representative of the Palestinian people in 1974. In 1988, India became one of the first countries to recognize the state of Palestine. Although in recent years, India has grown close to Israel owing to the fact that Israel has been a source of defense equipment and agricultural resources, Modi’s visit signals his commitment to follow India’s longstanding foreign policy. India has been endorsing the need for peace in the region and continues to believe in the peaceful co-existence of the two independent states i.e, Israel and Palestine.
Modi’s visit to Palestine and reassurance to its cause is not only a momentous move to enhance its bilateral ties but also a diplomatic win against Pakistan. Pakistan has attempted to gain support from the Arab world on the Kashmir issue and has tried to draw parallels between Kashmir and Palestine especially following the visit of Israeli PM Netanyahu to India in January 2018. Modi’s stance on Palestine has the propensity to make Arabs reconsider their support of Pakistan on the Kashmir issue and maintain neutrality.
His visit will also yield positive results in his domestic policy considering the numerous instances of violence against the Muslim communities in India. Through this visit, Modi is re-positioning himself in response to the immense criticism that he has come under at home and abroad concerning the attacks on minorities particularly Muslims in the country. With the 2002 Gujarat riots as a permanent mark on his record, PM Modi’s image when it comes to the Muslim community in India is rather tainted. Furthermore, India’s Muslim population has been on edge after instances of communal attacks against them led by right wing fringe elements. Modi and the recent occurrences of violence in India have left many countries in the Muslim world uneasy about India’s position towards the latter. Any display of support for Palestine at this time could help temper those concerns and have the potential to help Modi at home as well ahead of the 2019 elections.
Modi’s visit to Palestine is a part of 3 nation trip, which includes Oman and the UAE. This pragmatic approach and energy packed foreign policy has definitely put India on the front foot in the international arena to secure its national interests. By having strong bilateral relations with Israel and Palestine at the same time, Modi signals his de-hyphenated foreign policy. However, for Mr. Modi’s foreign policy to truly succeed, it will need to be followed with efforts to assuage the communal violence at home.
Zaid Mughal is a law graduate with a Master’s Degree in Security Studies from India.
Please note that opinions expressed in this article are solely those of our contributors, not of Political Insights, which takes no institutional positions.