The wheels are in motion for Prime Minister Narendra Modi to make a state visit to Israel sometime later this year. Whatever the outcome of the visit, the very act of visiting Israel will be historic. No serving Indian prime minister has ever visited Israel. There are also increasing signals that Modi will break the traditional diplomatic hyphen New Delhi has maintained between Israel and Palestine and will not include a stopover in Palestine in his itinerary. Such a decision would fit in with Modi’s general attitude that Indian foreign policy should reflect the rising global profile of India, adhere strictly to the national interest and be less concerned about ideological and symbolic actions.
More fundamental is that such a trip would reflect the sea-change that has taken place between India and Israel since the former normalised diplomatic relations in 1992. Israel is now one of the three largest suppliers of arms and weapons to India, a major source of assistance in the country’s counterterrorism programmes and, uniquely in the world, a partner in the development of India’s nuclear arsenal. The last fact alone would indicate Israel has become strategically more trusted by India than any other country in the world.
That New Delhi should have continued to follow a path of diplomatic distance and security promiscuity with Israel has not made any sense for several years now. Modi’s visit will hopefully bring diplomacy into alignment with political reality. The arguments against such an act have proven demonstrably false. No Arab or West Asian government has diluted its relationship with India. Quite the opposite: New Delhi’s relations with many such countries have never been more intimate.
There remains, however, a strong humanitarian and weaker strategic reason for India to retain its support for Palestine. There can be no walking back from India’s recognition of the Palestinian state and, accordingly, its belief in a two-state solution to that problem. But given the depth and breadth of India’s relationship with Israel versus the residual and largely humanitarian one it has with Palestine, binding one strand to the other makes little sense. India, after all, makes exactly the same argument when it tries to get other countries to drop the hyphen between itself, the emerging power, and Pakistan, the failing rogue state. There is an additional problem that the original secular Palestinian nationalism has increasingly being supplanted by an Islamic identity that New Delhi finds unpalatable. The coming Modi visit will be seen as radical. In truth it will be realistic, introducing policy changes that should have been carried out many years ago.