<b>Diplomatic Enclave:</b> Common friend
Despite the flourishing ties with Israel, Palestine cannot be relegated to the background
India and Palestine enjoy historically close and friendly ties. The recent visit of Palestine President Mahmoud Abbas was a reaffirmation of those ties made necessary due to the high-visibility blossoming of India’s relations with Israel.
Each successive government in Delhi has sought to expand ties with Israel in the past 25 years since the two countries established full diplomatic relations. But Prime Minister Narendra Modi has a special affinity towards Israel, which was evident when he met Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during his first visit to New York in September 2015. Modi had even announced his intention to visit Israel soon. But that visit has been a long time in the planning and is expected to take place in July, exactly three years into Modi’s term. There is a likelihood of the Israeli Prime Minister visiting India later in the year.

The Palestinian leader’s visit was meant to indicate the continued importance of Palestine and India’s development cooperation with Palestine, even as the Israeli connection grows closer. It was the fifth visit by the Palestine head of state to India. In September 2015, Abbas had met Modi in New York and then again in Paris on the sidelines of climate change summit in December 2015. Five agreements were signed during the visit on cooperation in the fields of agriculture, IT, electronics, health, youth affairs and sports.
Israel has become important for India because of the growing defence and security ties and the increasing economic and technological cooperation, but Palestine remains an old friend. Despite the energy and thrust of the ties with Israel, Palestine cannot be relegated to the background.
The visit was also an attempt to de-hyphenate India’s ties with Israel and Palestine. Indian leaders have made it a point to visit Palestine every time they visit Israel as a way to maintain the balance in the ties. Israeli leaders would like New Delhi to be more conscious of the benefits of its ties with each country. Israelis were upset that President Pranab Mukherjee had chosen to stay a night in Ramallah last year as he was the first head of state to stay overnight in Palestine during an official visit. Modi has made a special outreach to West Asia, but is likely to break that tradition of linking a visit to Israel with Palestine.
Referring to India as a “dost” (friend), the Palestinian leader said that India had influence at the international level and could play an important role in resolving the Palestine-Israel issue. There is a possibility that a dialogue could be started between Israel and Palestine. In the past ten days, Abbas has had meetings with US President Donald Trump, German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Donald Trump has shown interest in the Palestine issue after rattling the Palestinians with his remark to the powerful lobbying group, American Israeli Action Committee that he would shift the US embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv, thereby acknowledging the Israeli claim. Trump had described Jerusalem, claimed by Israel and the Palestinians as the “eternal capital of the Jewish people” on that occasion.
The US President later made amends by inviting the Palestinian leader to visit Washington. He also dropped his plans for relocating the US embassy. Trump, who prides himself on his deal-making abilities, has since said that he was ready to mediate a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians. After a meeting with Abbas in early May, Trump said that he believed that both parties were willing to negotiate. “We need two willing parties. Israel was willing as were the Palestinians.” If both parties were willing to negotiate, “we have a deal,” he said, calling it the “ultimate deal”. Trump would try and get Netanyahu to begin discussions for a peace agreement later this year.
Trump is to meet Abbas for the second time in a month in Saudi Arabia on May 21 where the US president due to meet other regional leaders. Trump is later scheduled to visit Israel and Palestine. He will also meet the Palestinian leader in Bethlehem, the Christian holy city in the West Bank where he will visit the Church of the Nativity and the Holocaust memorial centre in Jerusalem.

Following the White House meeting in Washington, Abbas met Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Sochi resort in Russia. While Putin reiterated Russia’s full support to resumption of a dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians, Abbas said that it would be impossible to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict without the participation of Russia.
Trump’s first foreign tour as President will take him to West Asia. After becoming a forgotten cause during the last years of the Barack Obama administration as other conflicts intensified in the region, Trump’s attention to what he could lead to resumption of an Israeli-Palestinian dialogue.
Shubha Singh