External affairs minister Sushma Swaraj will visit Palestine and Israel from January 17, months ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s trip to the crucial West Asia region later this year.
The first stop in Swaraj’s itinerary is Palestine, where she will review bilateral relations with the Palestinian leadership on January 17. She will then head to Israel later the same day.
India has traditionally struck a balance in its ties with Palestine and Israel. The relationship with Israel has become important in recent years, underpinned by growing cooperation in defence and security.
This is Swaraj’s first visit to West Asia and “Palestine is the first destination in the region, which in itself reflects the importance India holds for Palestine in its engagement with the countries of the region”, said a statement from the external affairs ministry.
India shares “traditionally close relations” with Palestine and is actively contributing through capacity-building and human resource development initiatives. “The visit will also reaffirm India’s continued political, diplomatic and developmental support to Palestine,” the statement said.
India’s relations with Israel are “part of its engagement with the broader West Asia region and are independent to its relations with any country in the region”, the external affairs ministry said in a separate statement announcing Swaraj’s visit to Israel.
In Palestine, Swaraj will also inaugurate a digital learning and innovation centre in Ramallah.
During her two-day trip to Israel, Swaraj will hold discussions with the Israeli leadership and review the gamut of bilateral relations. She will also interact with the Indian community in Israel.
“The visit will augment India’s bilateral relations with Israel and further strengthen the linkages between the two sides,” the external affairs ministry said in a statement.
Swaraj’s visit to the two countries follows trips in October by President Pranab Mukherjee, who became the first Indian head of state to visit Israel. She will be accompanied by the Secretary (East) and other officials from the ministry.
The visit comes against the backdrop of the influence of the Islamic State terror group spreading beyond the borders of Iraq and Syria.
India is expected to host Israel President Reuven Rivlin and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu before Modi heads to Jerusalem.