– Shantanu Mukharji
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent overseas trip, among other countries, Palestine seems to be decidedly the most significant visit casting profound spell in the geo-political sense of the term. Importantly, PM Modi reaching out to the Palestinian people endorses, quite convincingly, that Indian government’s desire, as part of a well crafted foreign policy, to India’s historic engagement with the Palestinian cause.
The visit to Palestine is not only seen as a routine or an ordinary visit the heads of governments undertake, but is assessed as “History in the making” as aptly put by the Indian Ministry for External Affairs. Why it was not an ordinary visit is borne by the fact that as an important gesture, President Abbas of Palestine conferred PM Narendra Modi with Grand Collar Honor, which is Palestine’s highest honor, in recognition of PM’s what was described as wise leadership. On his part, PM Modi termed the award as an honor for the people of India.
The award, was not only a token of appreciation to the Indian Prime Minister, but to an age old relationship in which India demonstratively and solidly supported the independent identity of the Palestinian people. Judging by the history, India has always lent support to the liberation of the Palestinian state as the cause of all the free people of the world.
Post Arab-Israel war of 1948, India had even snapped all ties with Israel. However, with a fresh approach, in its developing engagement with Israel and simultaneously, reaching out to the Palestinian people, is that, in essence, making new friends does not mean abandoning the old and close friends. This stance was fundamentally upheld in disfavoring the US in shifting the capital from Tel aviv to Jerusalem during the UN resolution. This is exactly while the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas himself has been consistently assorted that any state has the right to establish relations with other countries.
Meanwhile, a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), Executive Committee, Ahmad Majdalani observed to India’s improved relations with Israel with a positive and hopeful perspective. Significantly, he perceived that the improved relations between Israel and India can, in effect, help the Palestinians. His argument is further reinforced by the fact that now India has more leverage with Israel facilitating more pressure in favor of the Palestinians.
According to West Asia watchers, the visit and the implication that ensued perhaps conveys a message to the Muslim community that India does not favor Israel and Jews at the cost of Palestinians and Muslims. It is noteworthy that in the backdrop of the visit the mainstream view emerging in the broader Muslim intellectuals circle seems to be a good balancing act particularly after the Israeli Prime Minister’s recent visit to India.
Dr. Arshad Alam, an Indian Muslim researcher and an expert of West Asian studies felt that there was concern in diplomatic circles that India was getting too close to Israel and that Pakistan could exploit the situation. However, Prime Minister’s visit to Palestine seems to put such concerns to rest.
In this context it would be pertinent to point out that following independence of India and Pakistan, there was an Indo-Pakistan rivalry on asserting support for the Palestine cause. While Pakistan played the Islamic card, India articulated its narrative of secularism and anti imperialism to establish its pro-Palestinian track record. Experts, in the meantime opine that in dealing with the Palestine-Israel conflict India is trying to find a path which would be a marginal departure from the earlier Indian policy though not entirely opposed to that. India has been extending all round support to the Palestinian people and in 1974-75 India became the first non-Arab nation to recognize PLO as the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people. When Yasser Arafat was condemned as “Terrorist,” ex-Prime Minister Indira Gandhi developed excellent and robust bilateral ties with Arafat’s leadership and upgraded the Palestinian mission in India to an embassy status as late as in 1980.
Subsequently, in1988, India formally recognized the Palestinian National Council’s declaration of independence, delicately maintaining a principled position of support for the two-state solution. It is there for evidence that the Indian stand of supporting the Palestinian cause through the two-state solution is long standing. At this juncture, when Palestine is embarking upon to establish an international multinational mechanism of negotiations Prime Minister Modi’s outreach to Palestine is expected to go along way to cement the peace process. It looks highly advisable that amidst the on going relations between India and Palestine the present Indian government further strengthens its historical ties with the Palestinians concretizing India’s role as a peacemaker in the region.
In run up to Prime Minister’s visit to Palestine, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas hailed India’s role in the Middle East peace process and the creation of the multilateral form of negotiations to clinch a final settlement with Israel. Abbas describes India as a much respected country in the international arena. This statement paved the way for a congenial atmosphere for talks between India and Palestine.
Prime Minister Modi won the hearts of thousands of Palestinians by visiting the tomb of Yasser Arafat, terming him as one of the world’s top leaders and a close friend of India and that his contribution to Palestine was historic.
In sum, Prime Minister Modi’s Palestine visit was also a masterstroke of diplomacy and rare display of statesmanship by taking with him both Israel and Palestine will out offending anyone of them. More importantly Prime Minister Modi, according to many West Asia watchers, emerged a key player in ushering in peace in this zone of attrition and paving the way of a much needed conflict resolution in the region.
(The writer is an international security analyst on counter terror)