What is being seen as a sharp departure from India’s longstanding Middle East policy, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi will not be visiting the Palestinian Authority during his historic visit to Israel, the first ever by a sitting Prime Minister of the country.  “Contrary to expectations that Modi would include Palestine in his itinerary like many ministers did in the past, he will be travelling only to Israel”, the leading Indian newspaper Time of India wrote.

Prime Minister Modi is expected to visit Israel in July to mark the 25th anniversary of the establishment of formal diplomatic ties between the two countries.

According to the Times of India, the Palestinian Authority’s (PA) envoy to India was ‘shocked’ at Modi government’s decision to skip the customary visit to the Palestinian Territories. “Mr. Modi is not visiting Palestine on this occasion. Inshallah [By Allah’s will], our President [Mahmoud Abbas] will be here this year,” PA-envoy Adnan Abu Alhaija told the Indian newspaper.

There were indications that all was not well with India-Palestinian (PLO) relationship that goes back more than four decades. In January, PLO-supremo Mahmoud Abbas visited neighbouring Pakistan but did not visit New Delhi. Times of India writes:

PM 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.

[Palestinian Authority’s envoy to India] 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.

In October 2015, when Indian President Pranab Mukherjee visited Al Quds University located in the Palestinian Territories, hundreds of angry Palestinian protesters occupied the campus, protesting India’s growing ties with Israel. Considering the fact that the PLO runs the territories under its control with an iron fist, such protest could only have been staged by PLO’s mobilisation or its covert blessing.

India’s Cold War alliance with the Soviet Union and country’s ruling socialist Congress party’s close ties to the Egypt’s military dictator Gamal Abdel Nasser aligned India’s foreign policy closely with that of the Arab states. After the collapse of Soviet-bloc India moved to normalise ties with the Jewish State, establishing full diplomatic relation in 1991. In diplomatic circles, India was often referred to as the “23rd Arab state” for backing every single anti-Israel resolution tabled by the Arab states. India broke that voting pattern after Prime Minister Modi’s Nationalist BJP-alliance came to power in the summer of 2014.

In light of this history, Prime Minister Modi’s ‘stand-alone’ visit to the Jewish State signifies a tectonic shift in country’s foreign policy.

Today, Israel has become India’s partner of choice in modernising its defense capabilities. The Indian government is working with Israel in the fields of agriculture, water management, renewable energy and space exploration. India’s IT and technology multinationals have made significant investments in Israel’s start-up scene.

Prime Minister Modi’s visit could also see the signing of a free-trade agreement between the two countries. Earlier this month, Israel’s envoy to India, Ambassador Daniel Carmon told reporters that the upcoming state visit offered a “good opportunity” to conclude free-trade negotiations.

VIDEO: Prime Minister Modi’s statement on Israel-India relations during President Reuven Rivlin’s visit to India (November 2016):

[Cover image courtesy Prime Minister of Israel, YouTube]