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On February 10, 2018, Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Palestine, nine months after Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas visited India. This was the first prime ministerial visit to Palestine, though Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru had visited the then Egypt-controlled Gaza Strip in 1960. Notably, President Abbas has visited New Delhi five times since taking office in January 2005.

Accompanied by his Palestinian counterpart Rami Hamdallah, Prime Minister Modi paid tributes to Yasser Arafat museum and honoured the leader, popularly known as Abu Ammar. Modi acknowledged Arafat’s “unprecedented contribution” to the Palestinian struggle and called him a “distinguished friend” of India. After the wreath laying ceremony the prime minister joined Abbas at the Presidential compound, known as Muqa’ata, and was conferred the Grand Collar of the State of Palestine in recognition of Modi’s contribution in promoting relations between India and Palestine and in acknowledgment of his support to people’s right to independence and freedom. This is the highest Palestinian order given to foreign dignitaries and has been previously awarded to King Salman of Saudi Arabia, King Hamad of Bahrain, and President Xi Jinping of China among others. Then Prime Minister Modi addressed a joint press conference and said that he accepted this award on behalf of 1.25 billion Indians.

Modi held bilateral talks with Abbas and discussed a range of issues including Arab-Israel peace process and other developments in the region. Modi reiterated the policy of de-hyphenating Israel-Palestine and assured President Abbas that India is committed to support the struggle of the Palestinian people and hopes for peace and stability in the region. Reflecting on this former Indian ambassador to the US Nirupama Rao emphasized that through the stand alone option, India wants to maintain closer ties with Israel and Palestine and India’s December vote in favour of Palestine in the UNGA resolution criticizing the US for recognizing Jerusalem should not be seen as detraction from strategic and economic relations with Israel. Since coming to power in 2014, Modi pursued a policy of de-hyphenating Israel and Palestine and this became pronounced when he visited Israel in July 2017 without visiting Palestine.

The visit to Palestine balanced the equation as he did not visit Israel or Jerusalem during the trip and instead transited from Jordan where he met Jordanian King Abdullah II and discussed the regional developments. During this visit Modi deviated from the traditional Indian call for “united and viable” Palestine but only mentioned that India hopes that Palestine soon becomes a “sovereign and independent” state. He did not say anything on the question of border or East Jerusalem. Traditionally, India supported the creation of an independent Palestine within 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital and this required Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The stand had been reiterated by President Pranab Mukherjee in October 2015 and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in September 2012 as well as by Modi in the BRICS summit in July 2014. India dropped this when Modi hosted Abbas in May 2017. Modi emphasized that India believes that a permanent solution to the issue of Palestine can be reached through negotiations and understanding and reasserted India’s faith in diplomacy and judiciousness which can lead to freedom from the prevailing cycle of violence.

Modi reiterated support for the nation building efforts in Palestine and stated that as an old ally of Palestine, India has been cooperating in areas of training, technology, infrastructure development, project assistance and budgetary support. Some recent Indian initiatives include Technology Park Project in Ramallah to enhance employment skills and provide services to Palestinian youth; collaboration in setting Institute of Diplomacy to train young Palestinian diplomats; capacity building cooperation involving mutual training for long and short term courses; and scholarship for Palestinian youths in leading Indian educational institutions of finance, management, rural development and information technology. There was an exchange between youth delegation of India and Palestine in 2016 involving 50 youths and Modi announced that from this year the numbers would be doubled to hundred.

Six MoUs were signed during the visit worth US$50 million on projects related to health, education, women empowerment and printing press. A MoU was signed for setting up of 100-bed super specialty hospital at Beit Sahour in Bethlehem Governorate at a cost of US$30 million. An agreement was signed for the construction of Turathi, an India Palestine Centre for empowering women, at a cost of US$5 million. The third MoU seeks to set up a National Printing Press at Ramallah at a cost of US$5 million. Regarding education a MoU was signed for the construction of school in Muthalth Al Shuhada Village and Tamoon village in Tubas Governorate at a cost of US$1 million and US$1.1 million respectively and offered an assistance of US$250,000 for construction of additional floor to Jawaharlal Nehru School for Boys at Abu Dees.

Before the prime minster reached Palestine, President Abbas said that the discussion would be held on India’s role in the Middle East peace process and creation of a multilateral forum for negotiation with Israel. He also mentioned that bilateral relations and regional situation would be the focus of talks. Modi appreciated the remarkable courage and perseverance displayed by people of Palestine in face of adversities like “instability and insecurity.” Abbas emphasized on the important role India can play in resolving Israel-Palestine problem owing to its emergence as a “respected country in international arena” and stated that Palestine is ready for negotiations and believes that multilateral international mechanism is the best way to sponsor negotiations. Abbas said that Palestine relies on India due to its large stature and international voice due to its role in NAM, other international forums and its growing power in strategic and economic sector. Apart from political and domestic aspects of India Palestine relations, India sees Palestine as an important security partner and looks for cooperation on counter terrorism as flagged by Joint Secretary (WANA) B Bala Bhaskar.

The Qatar-based Al-Jazeera mentioned that Modi’s visit to Palestine is an effort to ‘balance’ Indian foreign policy in Middle East as the visit comes a month after the six-day visit of Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu to India. Palestine Chronicle felt that de-hyphenated policy of India is at odds with Indian struggle against the British. The Independent mentioned that Palestinians should not embrace Modi’s gesture as India buys 41 per cent of total Israeli arms export. Upon the conclusion of his Palestine Prime Minister Modi headed for the UAE and Oman before returning home on 12 February. 


As part of its editorial policy, the MEI@ND standardizes spelling and date formats, to make the text uniformly accessible and stylistically consistent. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views/positions of the MEI@ND. Editor, MEI@ND: P R Kumaraswamy