Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s much anticipated visit to Israel could turn into a delicate balancing act, with the Palestinian Authority expecting him to include Ramallah in his itinerary to show there hasn’t been a major change in India’s policy for the Middle East.
Modi is widely expected to visit Israel sometime early next year after Israeli President Reuven Rivlin reciprocates his Indian counterpart Pranab Mukherjee’s visit to Tel Aviv last October.
“We don’t protest India’s relations with Israel,” said Abdullah Abdullah, chairman of the political committee of the Palestinian Legislative Council. “We expect Prime Minister Modi to come to Ramallah.”
Abdullah, who was speaking to a group of visiting Indian politicians, think tank members and journalists in Ramallah, said the Palestinian authority expects and hopes New Delhi will not change its policy in a way that goes “against India’s principles”.
“We will invite him (Modi) but as they say – you can take the horse to water but you can’t make him drink,” he said with a laugh. “My information is that he is expected to come.”
Both President Mukherjee and external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj – who made a two-day trip to Israel in January – also travelled to Ramallah, the headquarters of the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank. Swaraj’s visit was aimed at preparing the grounds for Modi’s trip.
Though the itinerary for Modi’s visit is yet to be firmed up, there have been some suggestions that India might de-hyphenate its relations with Israel and Palestine.
Emmanuel Nahshon, a spokesman for the foreign ministry, said Israel doesn’t “have problems” if foreign leaders visit Palestine.
“We see the Prime Minister (Modi) devoting a lot of time to Israel and the development of bilateral relations. This is what is important. We will be extremely happy to host Prime Minister Modi,” he said during a briefing at the foreign ministry.
Tzipi Livni, a former foreign minister and a member of the Knesset or parliament from the opposition Zionist Union alliance, was more forthcoming on the issue of India’s relations with Israel and Palestine.
“Not every state needs to choose a side and be either pro-Palestine or pro-Israel. We support a vision of peace with two states for two peoples,” she said during an interaction with the Indian delegation.
Livni, who is a critic of the hardline policies of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ruling coalition, said she did not see any “specific role for India” in the standoff between the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority.
“The problem is not a new mediator, we are past the time of needing a mediator. What we need is direct negotiations with the Palestinians,” she said.
Nahshon too ruled out any mediatory role for India.
(The writer was in Israel at the invitation of the American Jewish Committee’s Project Interchange)