The pending State visit to Israel by Indian external affairs minister SM Krishna marks a significant milestone in the Indo-Israel relationship. He will be the highest-ranking Indian official to visit Israel in more than a decade and the decision to send him was not made lightly or in haste. It is no coincidence that the visit is coming at the beginning of the 20th anniversary of the establishment of formal diplomatic relations between the two countries. But that is only slightly more than pretext. There are far more pressing issues that make it an appropriate time for an official of Krishna’s status to come to Jerusalem.
Despite the fact that the bilateral relationship is the best it’s ever been and growing stronger, India has been reticent to openly embrace Israel. So what is changing?
For starters, India continues a transformation which began in 1991, when it broke free of its socialist moorings and adopted a free-market orientation. In doing so, it began to broaden its national vision beyond domestic and regional boundaries. This change in policy and perspective triggered the economic resurgence that has made India one of the world’s largest and fastest growing economies, and provided the nation’s leadership with the resources to actively pursue long-touted development initiatives. This, in turn, created a showcase for Israeli technologies that could noticeably improve the lives of millions of Indian citizens. Over the past 20 years, Israeli firms have played a meaningful role in meeting India’s development goals, including in the areas of food production, water safety and management, and even cancer screening and prevention.
Additionally, Israel has been a faithful ally to India in her conflicts with her neighbours, supplying training and material that wouldn’t have been otherwise available. The ever-increasing threat of external aggression from State and non-State actors, and a mutual commitment to combating global terrorism ensures that this partnership will be strong and enduring.
The major point of divergence has been, and continues to be, issues related to the Arab/Palestinian-Israeli conflict. India’s support for the Palestinians is unfailing, and will remain so, but this need not curtail a close bilateral relationship. Successive Israeli governments have accepted the two-State solution, by which an independent Palestinian State will live side-by-side with the State of Israel. India and Israel recognise the inherent positives in stronger ties. In addition to the aforementioned benefits that Israeli technology offers India, there is the enormous upside Israeli entrepreneurs can realise from partnering with India’s deep reservoir of skilled global corporate managers. In the diplomatic realm, India believes, correctly, she can and would like to play a more constructive role in West Asia, and more specifically, the search for peace. To accomplish the former, it will be necessary for New Delhi to be seen in Jerusalem as an objective interlocutor. For its part, Israel understands that an India supportive of Palestinian aspirations yet openly engaged with Israel, is both a powerful symbol and example to the international community.
In short, the current and perceived tangible benefits of closer bilateral ties provide ample motivation and justification for a policy of broad-based, open engagement.
Mark Sloman is director, India programme, The Israel Project
The views expressed by the author are personal