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Change of policy: PM Modi will visit Israel, but skip Palestine

Change of policy: PM Modi will visit Israel, but skip Palestine

New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s upcoming visit to Israel in July, the first by an Indian Prime Minister, will not see him travelling to Palestine, a decision that underscores the "de-hyphenation" of India's relations with the two West Asian states.

Modi's visit, billed as historic, is a significant step in openly embracing a relationship that his predecessors fostered while avoiding public displays. Contrary to expectations that Modi would include Palestine in his itinerary too, like many ministers did in the past, he will be travelling only to Israel.

In a balancing act though, India is likely to host Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas before Modi sets off for Israel. "Mr Modi is not visiting Palestine on this occasion. Inshallah, our President will be here this year," Palestinian ambassador to India, Adnan Abu Alhaija has confirmed.

The delicate reworking of ties between the two states has seen India set up a joint commission co-chaired by minister of state for external affairs M J Akbar. The cooperation is expected to lead to the setting up of a tech park in Ramallah. During Akbar's visit to Palestine last year, Tel Aviv was informed that a visit to Israel was not a necessity either.

Modi is expected to visit Israel on his way back to India from the G20 summit in Hamburg in the second week of July. The government believes a standalone visit to Israel would further underline the significance of India's special ties with the Jewish nation. This year, the two countries mark the 25th anniversary of full diplomatic relations.

Acknowledging the fact that Modi and his government have been much more open about New Delhi's engagement with Tel Aviv, Israel's ambassador to India Daniel Carmon said on Thursday that "high visibility" to ties was leading to more activities between the two nations.

In a departure from past policy, the NDA government has looked to bifurcate its relations with Israel and Palestine.

It was Union home minister Rajnath Singh who first broke from the practice of clubbing high-level visits to the countries by not travelling to Palestine when he visited Israel in 2014. However, President Pranab Mukherjee in 2015 and Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj a year later visited both.

Modi's visit to Israel will come two years after it was first announced by Swaraj. The government has used this period to intensify engagement with the Arab world to dispel the notion that under Modi, there might be a shift in India's Israel-Palestine policy. These efforts include visits by Modi to countries like Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the UAE.

Since the Modi government assumed office, India has reiterated on several occasions that its support to the Palestinian cause remains intact even as it maintains good relations with Israel. Its decision to abstain from voting on an anti-Israel resolution at the UN Human RIGHTS Council, which called for accountability for killings and violations of international law in Gaza, came as a setback to the Palestinians.

India defended the decision by saying that it abstained because of the reference in the resolution to the International Criminal Court, of which India is not a member.

Ambassador Alhaija had reacted to India's decision by describing it as shocking. A newspaper had quoted him as saying that India's departure from its "traditional position" was the fallout of its burgeoning military ties with Israel.

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