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Modi’s Palestine visit is historic, but will not affect India-Israel ties

India’s policy of de-hyphenating Israel and Palestine benefits Israel and severely undermines political and grassroots efforts to hold Israel accountable for its crimes against Palestinians — which, hopefully, Narendra Modi will witness first-hand on his trip to Palestine

opinion Updated: Feb 09, 2018 18:43 IST
Narendra Modi,Modi in Palestine,Israel
President of Palestine Mahmoud Abbas (right) presents Prime Minister Narendra Modi a portrait with his name inscribed in Arabic, New Delhi, May 16, 2017(PTI)

On February 10, Prime Minister Narendra Modi will visit Ramallah, making him the first Indian premier to visit Palestine. Since there are no active airports on Palestinian territory — thanks to Israeli occupation and restrictions — he will fly to Jordan first, after which he will embark on a helicopter trip from Amman to Ramallah.

This will mark a historic event in India-Palestine relations, and Modi deserves some credit for such outreach to Palestinians, especially considering voters of his Right-wing nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) are likely not as sympathetic to the Palestinian struggle as are Indian Muslims, who represent a minority in India. The fact that he is travelling to Ramallah via Amman rather than Tel Aviv is also a respectable decision.

Bala Bhaskar, an official with the Indian ministry of external affairs, said: “This is a stand-alone visit. We have de-hyphenated our relations with Palestine and Israel and now we see them both as mutually independent and exclusive, and, as part of this policy, the Prime Minister is undertaking this visit.”

This so-called policy of “de-hyphenation” of “Israel-Palestine” is straightforward and politically shrewd. Rather than treat the two entities as one complicated unit, India has chosen to pursue separate relationships with each party. This allows India to maintain the image of its historical moral support for Palestinian self-determination, and at the same time to engage in military, economic, and other strategic relations with Israel.

Of course, de-hyphenation serves the interests of the Indian State, since it can deal with both Palestinians and Israelis and appear to be avoiding the alienation of one side over the other. Unfortunately this strategy comes at a great cost to Palestinians.

As Israel reaps the gains of billion-dollar arms sales and other major economic dealings with India, it also benefits from the perception that it can continue to oppress Palestinians while still being able to profit from trade with the rest of the world. There are no consequences for its colonisation, discrimination, and brutality against Palestinians, despite being in violation of international laws, principles, and countless United Nations resolutions.

In reality, India’s policy of de-hyphenation above all benefits Israel and severely undermines political and grassroots efforts to hold Israel accountable for its crimes against Palestinians. Relations between the two cannot be viewed as “mutually independent and exclusive”, when one maintains total military and economic domination over the other. The fact that Modi is unable to fly directly from New Delhi to Ramallah is proof of this fact.

Historically, India has in fact offered consistent political support for Palestinians, particularly in the days of Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, which is unsurprising given the shared struggles with British colonialism. India voted against the 1947 UN Partition Plan for Palestine, it voted against Israel’s admission into the UN in 1949, and it did not officially recognise Israel as a State until 1950. Additionally, India was the first non-Arab country to recognise the Palestine Liberation Organization as the sole representative of Palestinians, and it also recognised the State of Palestine at the time of its declaration of independence in 1988.

More recently, in December 2017, India voted in favour of a UN General Assembly resolution that declared United States President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital to be null and void. All of this support is surely valued by Palestinians, but unfortunately, Indian and international solidarity has made no tangible impact on Palestinian self-determination.

This is why India’s recent UN vote against Israel on the issue of Jerusalem did nothing to impact India-Israel relations. On the contrary, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited India the next month and received a warm welcome. The Israelis know that diplomatic opposition at the UN makes no real difference in their ability to maintain the occupation of Palestinians, especially considering that Israel enjoys unwavering US support and veto power.

Israel will only be held accountable and adjust its dreadful treatment of Palestinians when major powers, such as India, along with the rest of the world, impose a complete diplomatic, economic, and cultural boycott. India was the first country to sever trade relations with the apartheid government of South Africa, and it was admirably at the forefront of other such efforts in the anti-apartheid movement.

While South African apartheid has long been dismantled, Israel has maintained a similar system of oppression over Palestinians for almost 70 years now. In the words of Mahatma Gandhi: “Intolerance is itself a form of violence and an obstacle to the growth of a true democratic spirit.” Hopefully, Modi will witness this first-hand on his trip to Palestine.

Mohamed K Mohamed is the executive director, The Jerusalem Fund and Palestine Center

The views expressed are personal

First Published: Feb 09, 2018 16:16 IST