Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj will visit Palestine and Israel on January 15-19 to lay the groundwork for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s likely trip to West Asia later this year.
The External Affairs Ministry has confirmed Swaraj’s visit to the region, saying in a statement that she will have a busy diplomatic schedule in Israel, as the two countries are interested in expanding areas of co-operation to counter-terrorism and defence sectors. Swaraj will also discuss the rising influence of the Islamic State (IS) terror outfit beyond the Iraqi and Syrian borders with the top Israeli leadership.
The ministry also said that Israeli President Reuven Rivlin and Premier Benjamin Netanyahu might visit India ahead of Modi’s arrival in Jerusalem. However, Swaraj, just like Prime Minister Modi, will visit Palestine before her arrival in Israel. Pranab Mukherjee became the first Indian president to visit Israel in October 2015. During his visit, President Mukherjee assured the Israeli leadership that India’s ties with the Jewish nation are independent of its support to the Palestinian cause.
Since becoming prime minister in May 2014, Modi has hinted that he wants to maintain close ties with Israel. The PM had planned to visit Israel in December 2015, but postponed the visit due to domestic concerns. Modi had invited his Israeli counterpart Netanyahu to visit India when they met in Paris on the sidelines of COP Summit in November 2015.
In recent times, India has intensified defence co-operation with Israel. At the same time, the South Asian country has remained careful to maintain its historical position of supporting the Palestine cause. India, the first non-Arab country to recognise the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO), has always supported the Palestine cause as the country is seriously concerned about its 120-million strong Muslim population. A PLO office was set up in the Indian capital in 1975, with full diplomatic relations established in March 1980. On June 25, 1996, India opened a Representative Office in Gaza.
India, which believes that Palestine is at the core of the Arab-Israeli conflict, has consistently backed the legitimate right of the Palestinian people to a State and the consequent imperative need for a just, comprehensive and lasting peace in the region on the basis of UN Security Council Resolution 242, 338 and 425, as well as the principle of “Land for Peace”. India also supported the Madrid Conference of October 1991.