Prime Minister Narendra Modi's visit to Israel, which begins today, is significant. He will be the first Indian PM to journey to Israel, his visit coinciding with the silver jubilee of the establishment of diplomatic relations between India and Israel. The last high-profile visit to Israel was undertaken by President Pranab Mukherjee in 2015, and the last major visit from Israel to India was Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's tour in 2003.
Over the years, the relationship between India and Israel has grown exponentially. Since 1992, the two countries have enhanced cooperation in spheres such as defence, agriculture and science and technology. India and Israel have emerged as formidable allies over the years despite the protracted Israel-Palestine conflict.
India has recently has moved closer to Israel... but India must refrain from alienating itself from the larger Palestinian cause.
The age-old Israel-Palestine conflict remains unresolved due to its complex nature. Despite arduous negotiations and engagements, no universally acceptable solution has emerged. India has traditionally favoured of the "two state solution" to resolve this conflict, and supports the peaceful resolution of the Israel Palestine conflict through discussion, deliberation and negotiations.
Therefore, India has traditionally tried to maintain a balance in its ties between Israel and Palestine. India voted against the partitioning of Palestine in 1947. Subsequently, India recognised Israel in 1947 and permitted Israel to open its first consulate in Mumbai in 1953. In a historic step India has also voted in favor of granting Palestine "observer status" at the United Nations in 2012. Of late, though, there has been a revision in the stance traditionally put forward by India. The country has recently has moved closer to Israel and established strong diplomatic relations with it. While this may augur well for India and Israel in general, India must refrain from alienating itself from the larger Palestinian cause.
With President Pranab Mukherjee having visited Israel in 2015 and Modi following suit two years later, it is clear that India is attaching significant importance to Israel as an ally. However, what is worrying is Prime Minister Modi's decision to not visit Palestine at the same time. Most leaders visit Israel and Palestine simultaneously to express their solidarity with the people of Palestine. In fact, Foreign Ministers like Sushma Swaraj, SM Krishna and others have always made it a point to visit both the countries simultaneously. Foreign leaders like President Trump ensure that a visit to Israel must be reciprocated with a meeting with the Palestinian leadership.
India must maintain a balance in managing its relationship with both Israel and Palestine, especially as a traditional supporter of a peaceful co-existence between the two countries. Palestinians have argued on forums like the United Nations that Israel controlled more than 61% of the West Bank, driving Palestinians from their land and hindering economic activity. Palestinians have accused Israelis of land grabbing and keeping a tight grip on their economy. Clearly, the average Palestinian leads a life where s/he is subjected to what many theorists have said constitutes "security as silence" in the words of the Copenhagen School of International Relations.
What is worrying is Prime Minister Modi's decision to not visit Palestine... Most leaders visit Israel and Palestine simultaneously to express their solidarity with the people of Palestine.
India and Israel share a mutually beneficial relationship with each other. India is the largest buyer of Israeli defence equipment thus making these countries close allies and partners in the realm of security co-operation. India and Israel have signed deals worth $2 billion for advanced surface-to-air missile systems. Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) will provide the Indian Army with advanced medium-range surface-to-air missile (MRSAM) systems as part of the deal. India and Israel have also emerged as key collaborators in the realm of agriculture, disaster management, economic ties and people to people contact.
Israel has emerged as a major tourist destination for Indians. The Economic Times reports that Israel has witnessed a growth of 49% in Indian arrivals from January to March 2017 vis-à-vis the same period in 2015. More than 8300 Indians have visited Israel in the first three months of 2017 as per statistics released by Israel Ministry of Tourism (IMOT). The 26/11 incident brought India and Israel together in grief especially after the horrific attack on the Chabad House in Mumbai. Prime Minister Modi is likely to meet Baby Moshe during the course of his visit. Such fruitful associations will give an impetus to this burgeoning relationship. India clearly understands that Israel is a victim of terrorism much like India. Israel should be able to keep its citizens safe from rocket attacks and violence committed by terrorist groups in Palestinian territories.
India must focus more intensely on building stronger alliances in the Middle East and avoid taking sides.
But is necessary to implore the Indian government to communicate on all outstanding issues and urge for an amicable resolution of the Israel and Palestine dispute. The United Nations on many occasions has taken bold steps and questioned Israel's illegal occupation and condemned the relentless construction of Israeli settlements, disproportionate violence during Israel's Gaza war, even describing the Israel's West Bank barrier as illegal.
The entire Middle East region is important for India—we share civilisational ties with many countries and the region is also an important source of energy, oil and gas. India must focus more intensely on building stronger alliances in the Middle East and avoid taking sides.