Modi's visit: India dehyphenates ties with Palestine, Israel

Jul 19, 2017
By Anil Wadhwa
Prime Minister Narendra Modi's recent visit to Israel has been termed historic, and high on both optics and substance. The first ever visit by an Indian prime minister to Israel coincided with celebrations of the 25th anniversary of diplomatic ties, and driven by personal chemistry and extensive convergences, elevated relations to a strategic partnership.
A rare joint editorial co-authored by Prime Ministers Netanyahu and Modi, which ahead of the visit, said: 'from startups to space, communications to cybernetics, Israel's technological capabilities are merging with India's''.
This set the tone for the strong technology and development underpinning of the visit with seven MoUs signed in the areas related to space cooperation, water conservation in India; a three year work programme in agriculture (2018-2020) and the setting up a $40 million India Israel industrial R&D and technological innovation fund for commercial applications.
The strategic focus on water management, treatment and reuse for agriculture, desalination, utility reforms and cleaning of the Ganga in the dire scenario of a water stressed India, and improved agricultural productivity through post harvest technical knowhow and market linkages with the aim of doubling farmers incomes in India by 2022 is in line with governmental priorities.
In a visit high on symbolism, Netanyahu rolled out the red carpet at the airport in the presence of his entire cabinet - a welcome reserved for American presidents and the Pope - and accompanied Modi to almost all scheduled events in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Haifa.
The joint statement issued during the visit identified areas of partnership as development, technology, innovation, entrepreneurship, defence and security. Israel has already emerged as a reliable partner of India in defence and security, intelligence sharing and counterterrorism. The joint statement eschews specifics other than an exhortation for future joint development of defence products and transfer of technology in keeping with the Make in India drive.
However, it is known that India has become the number one destination for Israeli defence related exports, and, in the months just preceding, Israel concluded two major defence deals worth $2.6 billion with India in missile defence systems. In the critical area of cybersecurity, it was agreed to lay down a mutually agreed road map to be operationalised through a framework of cooperation and sharing of expertise and knowledge.
As would be expected, the visit allowed an open and in depth exchange of views on terrorism-a scourge binding both countries. The joint statement, thus, emphasised the need for strong measures against not only perpetrators, but also all those who encourage, support and finance terrorism, or provide sanctuary to terrorists or terror groupings, reflecting the interests of both sides in the fight against terror in their respective geographies.
It was in this context that Modi's empathetic meeting with Moshe Holtzberg, the 11 year old survivor of the 26/11 Mumbai terror attack on Chabad House by Pakistani terrorists in 2008, struck a chord.
The joint statement rightly focuses on the need to boost cooperation in innovation and entrepreneurship and calls for greater collaboration in startups as an area of relative weakness in bilateral relations has been trade and investment.
In anticipation of the visit, Netanyahu had recently set a goal of increasing Israeli exports to India by 25% over the next four years with a monitoring bureau in his office and warmed the cockles of his guest's heart by stating, during the visit, that Israel would "Make with India" as a response to "Make in India" popularised by Modi.
Trade between the two countries stands at under $5b (excluding defence exports) and Israeli FDI in India totals a paltry $100 million, although more is reported to have been invested through companies based in USA, Europe and Singapore.
Investments from India in Israel have been just a few - in drip irrigation, pharmaceuticals and water treatment - compared to $16.5 billion invested by China in 2016 alone in cutting edge information technology, medical equipment and cybersecurity startups. In order to realise the full potential of bilateral trade and investment, a CEOs forum was constituted during the visit which appears to have made a good beginning by announcing signing of MoUs worth $5b on the margins of its first meeting.
Message and nuances
The visit will also be analysed for the message and nuances conveyed by Modi on India's stand on the Palestinian issue. While there has been a conscious dehyphenating of India's relationship with Palestine and Israel, Modi had stated in an interview to the "Israeli Hayon" before his departure that India is committed to a two-state solution or final settlement between Israel and Palestine which would respect the sentiments and address the demands of all affected parties.
The joint statement mentions, "an early negotiated solution between Israel and Palestine, based on mutual recognition and security arrangements." On his part, Modi has built trust by visiting Saudi Arabia, UAE, Qatar and Iran and also, importantly, receiving President Mahmoud Abbas in India in May 2017. The prime minister has not allowed domestic politics or fears on account of energy security and diaspora well being in the Gulf and West Asia come in the way of having a relationship with both Israel and Palestine on their own merits.
The war in Syria and Iraq, the rise of Islamic State, divisions in the GCC, Shia Sunni rivalry led by Saudi Arabia and Iran, and divisions within Palestine between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas has in any case, brought about new alignments resulting in Israel's relationships with many of these states like Egypt, Saudi Arabia and UAE having undergone a profound change. 
Modis visit seems to have held out the promise of "new horizons of engagement" between India and Israel. Netanyahu's ready acceptance of the invitation by Modi to visit India before the end of this year itself is a sign that he is keen to build on the momentum generated by Modi's pioneering visit to Israel. 
(The writer is former Secretary, Ministry of External Affairs, and Ambassador to Italy, Thailand, Oman and Poland)
Read More:
Deccan Herald, July 19, 2017

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