Palestinians wary of India-Israel bond

President Pranab Mukherjee’s visit to West Asia was significant for several reasons. For one, this is the first visit by an Indian head of state to Palestine and Israel. More importantly, India was hoping to signal via the President’s engagements that it is keen to engage with both nations. This the President did with commendable dexterity. His visit came at a critical juncture; India’s relationship with Israel is expanding and the Palestinians are reportedly apprehensive over the Narendra Modi government’s enthusiastic bonding with Israel. Would India’s growing proximity with Israel weaken its commitment to the Palestinian cause? While in Palestine, the President reiterated India’s support for Palestinian statehood and gifted the Palestinian Authority with $5 million towards budgetary support. India also announced projects worth millions of dollars aimed at building capacity in the Palestinian territories. In his address to the Israeli parliament, Mukherjee was careful to avoid any reference to the flaring violence in the region. However, he did call for “peaceful resolution” of the conflict, an approach that is at odds with the military option that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appears to prefer.

There were incidents during the President’s visit that merit India’s attention. One was the student protests at the Al-Quds University against India’s warming relations with Israel. So serious were these protests that the President was forced to cut short his visit to the university and cancel an inauguration of a school. India should note that its growing bonhomie with Israel has seriously undermined its standing among the Palestinians. Its leaders may be verbally expressing support to the Palestinian cause, but this means little to the Palestinian people, especially since Delhi does not condemn Israel’s repeated unleashing of violence on them.

The other incident that India must take note of is Israel’s refusal to release communication equipment that was part of the computer systems President Mukherjee gifted the Al-Quds University’s India-Palestine Centre for Excellence in Information Communication Technology. It underscores the fact that even if Delhi is keen to ensure that its relations with Israel and Palestine are independent of each other, this is not the way the Israelis see it. Israel will not allow India-Palestine cooperation that has implications for its interests. It is a reminder that Israel, and not India and Palestine, will determine the content, direction and pace of India-Palestine relations. President Mukherjee’s visit provides useful pointers to the mood vis-à-vis India in the region. The country must draw on this in planning the agenda of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Israel in a few months.

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