By Fazzur Rahman
The President of Palestine, Mr. Mahmoud Abbas, concluded his four-day (14-17 May, 2017) state visit to India. It was Mahmoud Abbas’s third official visit to India, a nation known for its old solidarity with the Palestinian freedom struggle and one of the pioneers to recognize the state of Palestine. Mr. Mahmoud visited India at the invitation of President Pranab Mukherjee, who himself had visited the region last year and had reiterated India’s old commitment to the causes of Palestine. During his stay in New Delhi, he met President Pranab Mukherjee, Vice President Hamid Ansari, Prime Minister Modi, and Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj. He visited India Islamic Cultural Centre to participate in the reception organized in his honor. In his public address there, Mr. Abbas called upon the Israeli Prime Minister, Netanyahu, to extend the hand to achieve peace and said that the Palestinians must have a sovereign state with East Jerusalem as its capital. He also called upon the global community to put pressure on Israel to halt the illegal settlement and to work for a viable solution to the most protracted political crisis in the modern time.
President Abbas also paid a visit to the Centre for Development of Advanced Computing to forge a deep cooperation between Palestine-India Techno Park ( being built by India in Palestine) an Indian IT industries. This is in addition to the ‘The India-Palestine Center for Excellence’, which was inaugurated in Ramallah when President Mukharjee visited the town. At that time, India had promised to build a ‘Palestinian Institute of Diplomacy’ at an estimated cost of US $12 million.
While welcoming the President of Palestine, Prime Minister Modi reiterated that India would like to see the realization of a sovereign, independent, and united state of Palestine. A series of MoUs was also signed during his meeting with the Prime Minster and Foreign Minister. Both sides signed an MoU to ease the visa restriction for the diplomatic passport holders from these countries apart from other MoUs on agricultural, technological, educational cooperation, and collaboration in the health sector. This is not for the first time that India has entered into these agreements with the Palestinian authority. India has historically collaborated with Palestine on several political and economic fronts. During the visit of President Mukherjee to Palestine last year, India had announced an increase in ICCR scholarships from 10 to 25 per annum and the ITEC slot was also increased from 50 to 100. Meanwhile, India had extended budgetary support amounting to US $5 million to the Palestinian authority in addition to other financial packages that India keeps on offering to Palestine.
There is no doubt that the sole objective of any high-level visit on the part of Palestine leadership is always to garner and muster support for the resolution of the Palestinian crisis and the same holds true for the present visit of Mr. Abbas to India. But there are other factors which provide a different dynamics to the visit of President Abbas. The visit has taken place at a time when Prime Minster Modi is about to visit the state of Israel and it would be the first visit of the head of the government to the state of Israel. It will also be the first stand alone visit to the country which for many seems to be an indication of a major shift from the past posture of India’s policy in the region. Many eyebrows were raise when Mr. Abbas visited Pakistan and Bangladesh in January and did not land in India which was unusual because most of dignitaries coming to the region always visit both the countries. It seemed stranger because India is undoubtedly a much closer and older friend of Palestine than Pakistan or Bangladesh.
Mr. Abbas had recently visited Egypt and Jordan just before the planned visit of their leaders to the United Sates to meet the new President. That meeting was perhaps aimed to utilize the close ties of President Al-Sisi of Egypt and King Hessian of Jordan with President Donald Trump for a just solution of the Palestinian crisis. The same can be said in the case of the present visit of Mr. Abbas to India, which might be intended to use the deep political and strategic ties between India and Israel when Prime Minster Modi would visit Israel in July.
India has always reiterated that its close ties with Israel would never affect its historical attachment with the people of Palestine. There is no gain for Palestine in harboring fear because political relationship is forged mainly to protect and promote the respective interests and not to harm the ties with others. No doubt India has its own stakes and concern in the fast changing geopolitical scenarios in the WANA region, which is recasting India’s policies but as of now no major change seems to be on the horizon of India-Palestine relationship.
Unlike other political crises in the world, Palestinian leadership has always opted to involve the international community to resolve the crisis and they have never shied away from seeking the support of any nation which could exert political or strategic pressure on Israel to end the occupation. Any Palestinian leader would go anywhere if he could be assured that he would get the support to end the settlement and the occupation of the Palestinian land.
As a part of the fresh campaign to end the deadlock in Palestine after Donald Trump’s assumption to power, Abbas has met many European larders including Chancellor Markel, President Putin and Trump himself to invigorate the peace process. President Abbas’s regional and global tour is also reflective of internal political divides and growing animosity between Hamas and Fatah. These visits are also an attempt to convey the message that real representation of Palestinians lies in the Fatah group and not the Hamas, which has been almost outcast by the Western powers and Israel.
It can be concluded that Mr. Abbas’ visit to India was primarily aimed at garnering support for the new effort to end the deadlock and achieve the desired two-states solution, to observe if India’s close strategic and political ties with Israel could be of any use for Palestine or if India could be roped in as an honest and sincere mediator in the protracted crisis. The visit was also meant to reiterate that the real and honest representative of people of Palestine are the Fatah leadership, apart from deepening and further consolidating Palestinian historical political and cultural relationship with India and reminding India that two great leaders of India and Palestine – Indira Gandhi and Arafat – used to refer to each other as friends.
Dr. Fazzur Rahman Siddiqui is a fellow at the Indian Council of World Affairs (ICWA), a Delhi-based foreign policy think tank. His area of research is political Islam and socio-political development in the Arab world. Recently he has published a book, Political Islam and the Arab Uprising: Islamist Politics in Changing Time (Sage: 2017). He has also authored “The Concept of Islamic State: From the Time of Caliphate to Twentieth Century: Pre-Ikhwan and Post-Ikhwan Phase” (Lebanon). He writes regularly on political and regional issues in the Arab world.
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