Under Modi 1.0 and Modi 2.0, there have been many firsts in the India-Palestine bilateral. Delinking its ties with Palestine from the larger Israel-Palestine conflict, India has since been pursuing its ties with both countries on parallel tracks
July 4 marked the third anniversary of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Israel visit — the first ever visit by an Indian Prime Minister to the Jewish state. This was but to be expected. Both the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Modi himself had assiduously cultivated ties with Israel. To be fair, they were not the only ones. Both the Congress and Left parties had also cultivated ties with Israel. Modi’s visit was, therefore, no surprise. What was surprising was the time it took for him to actually make that trip — in the third year of his prime ministership.
What is less known or discussed is how adroitly India under Modi has balanced ties with the Palestinians simultaneously, even actually increasing support, proving false the dire predictions that proximity with Israel would come at the cost of India’s decades’ long support and ties with the Palestinians.
Modi first met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in 2015 on the side lines of the UNGA in New York. Bilateral ties have since rapidly moved ahead.
Take for instance the June 24 virtual Ministerial Pledging Conference for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). Participating in it Minister of State for External Affairs V Muraleedharan said “As a steadfast supporter of the Palestinian cause, India deeply appreciates the generous support and untiring work of host countries, donors and UNRWA to ensure millions of our Palestinian brothers and sisters displaced from their homeland a life of dignity”.
This is significant as Israel has been wanting to dismantle the UNRWA and in support of this, in 2018, the US — the agency’s largest donor — cut off funding for it. India is one of the countries that stepped in to try and fill in the shortfall, by increasing its contribution to the agency from $1.25 million to $5 million.
Under Modi 1.0 and Modi 2.0, there have been many firsts in the India-Palestine bilateral. Delinking its ties with the Palestine from the larger Israel-Palestine conflict, India has since been pursuing its ties with both Israel and Palestine on parallel tracks.
In February 2018, Modi became the first Prime Minister to visit Ramallah; in 2015, Pranab Mukherjee became the first President to do so, on his three-nation trip which also included Jordan and Israel.
The first ever Foreign Office Consultations between India and Palestine were held in Ramallah in May 2015, while the first ever Joint Commission Meeting between India and Palestine was held in Ramallah in November 2016.
Scholarships, financial, academic, and humanitarian aid for Palestinians simultaneously increased under Modi. More recently India has sent medical and humanitarian supplies to Palestine for battling COVID-19.
In 2015 India pledged $5 million in aid for Gaza’s reconstruction after the 2014 Israel-Gaza conflict, and the same year supported the installation of the Palestinian flag at UN's premises. In fact Modi hosted Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Delhi before travelling to Israel in 2017.
India has also continued voting for resolutions in favour of Palestine save once in June 2019 when it voted in support of Israel at the UN’s Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) to deny observer status to Palestinian human rights organisation Shahed, because the group was reported to be a front for organisation for Hamas.
On all others the Modi government continues to vote for Palestine, including the December 2017 landmark resolution regarding the status of Jerusalem in the backdrop of the United States’ decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and shift its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. It also continued to sponsor the resolution — ‘Right of the Palestinian People to Self-Determination’.
India continues to call for the two-state solution, even as New Delhi maintains a strategic silence on the annexation plan for parts of the West Bank floated by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
No doubt it is pragmatism and political expediency that drives India’s support for Palestine, but it is worth noting that in March a delegation on the UN Committee for the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People (CEIRPP) visited India for two days to explore ways that India can help mediate the long intractable conflict, given its good relations with both sides.
India-Israel ties are now so normal that they do not make the headlines anymore. However, India’s outreach to the Palestinians is worth noting, especially when sections of the media mentions Palestinians and India in the same breadth only in the context of Kashmir, where India’s policies in Kashmir are falsely equated with Israel’s policies vis-a-vis Palestine.Aditi Bhaduri is a journalist and political analyst. Views are personal.