NEW DELHI: After having hosted Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu, PM Modi will land in Ramallah on February 10 for what will be the first-ever visit by an Indian prime minister to Palestine.
Modi’s visit to Israel last year was also the first by an Indian PM and the one to Palestine follows the government’s decision to “de-hypenate” relations with the two entities as a departure from past practice of seeing visits to the region as balancing acts. While India and Palestine have been discussing the proposed visit for a while, this is the first confirmation of its date and it comes in the middle of Netanyahu’s visit to India.
The visit will be significant for India as the government believes it will help dispel the notion that there has been any change in its Palestine policy since Modi assumed office in 2014. India’s recent vote against the US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in the UN was intended to iterate its longstanding diplomatic position.
While the modalities for the visit are still being worked out, government sources here said Modi was likely to travel to Ramallah in a chopper from Amman in Jordan. The West Bank city of Ramallah is the de facto administrative capital of Palestine. The route which Modi will take to Ramallah, which is located only 8km from Jerusalem, is important in the context of the government’s policy of de-hyphenating its relations with Israel and Palestine. It will help Modi skip Israel, the way he skipped Palestine last year during his visit to Israel.
There was tremendous disappointment in Palestine last year when Modi visited Israel but chose not to travel to Ramallah. As Khalil Shikaki, the director of Palestinian Centre for Policy and Survey Research in Ramallah, had told a visiting group of Indian journalists and politicians last year, there were significant concerns in Palestine that India was moving away from the policies it had followed since 1947. “The current PM (Modi) seems more interested in security and in relations with the West. Palestinians seem to believe that they can no longer count on India’s support,” Shikaki had said.
With its vote recently in favour of a UN resolution denouncing the US decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and now with Modi’s visit to Ramallah, the government seems to be suggesting that its ties with Israel will not come at the expense of its relationship with Palestine. The Modi government remains conscious of India’s position over the years that its support to the Palestinian cause is an indispensable part of its foreign policy.