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Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday became the first Indian Prime Minister to set foot in Ramallah where he expressed support for a sovereign Palestine at peace with its neighbourhood while his host President Mahmoud Abbas said India has a role in ensuring a two-state solution.
“We rely on India’s role as an international force of great standing through its historical role in the Non-aligned Movement and its increasing, growing power in strategic and economic levels, in a way that is conducive to a just and desired peace,” said Abbas in a joint press statement.
“We hope for peace and stability in Palestine, we believe a permanent solution is possible with dialogue. Only diplomacy and far-sightedness can set free from violence and baggage of the past. We know it is not easy but we need to keep trying as a lot is at stake,” Modi said.
Modi’s path-breaking visit was marked by a helicopter provided by the Jordanian government flying him to Ramallah with two Israeli choppers as escorts, perhaps also a first, with the ministry of external affairs posting a brief video of the flight on social media.
The PM arrived to a red carpet welcome embellished by the Palestine National Authority conferring on him the “Grand Collar Honour”, the highest recognition offered by the PA. “This is a good opportunity to express respect for your standing and a recognition of your wise leadership,” said Abbas. Modi said it was an honour for India. Modi visited the mausoleum of Yasser Arafat and laid a wreath at the grave of the Palestinian leader.
The visit was a delicate balance act for Modi after his strong embracement of Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu and his visit, again a first by an Indian PM, to the country last year. This was followed by Netanyahu being feted in Delhi and a major effort to increase defence and trade ties between the two nations.
As part of the Modi government’s declared objective of “de-hyphenation” of ties with PA and Israel, the PM made it a point to travel to Ramallah from Jordan and the focus of the diplomatic exchange was Indian assistance in medical care, IT training and governance.
Modi was received at an official ceremony at the presidential compound, also known as Muqata’a, in Ramallah — the Palestinian seat of government. They discussed the full range of India-Palestine ties following which the two sides signed six agreements worth around $50 million that includes setting up of a $30 million super speciality hospital in Beit Sahur. Three agreements in the education sector worth U5 million, one MoU for procurement of equipment and machinery for the National Printing Press and one for construction of a centre for empowering women were signed.
Abbas said Palestine is ready to engage in negotiations to achieve freedom and independence in accordance with the two-state solution along the lines of 1967 and internationally recognised resolutions so that both Palestine and Israel can co-exist in peace and security, provided East Jerusalem is the capital of the state of Palestine. Modi walked the diplomatic tightrope in that region — he did not talk of the two-state solution nor was there a joint statement. India has decided to de-hyphenate its policies to Israel and Palestine.
Abbas said the formation of a multi-lateral mechanism that is produced by an international peace convention is the most ideal way to broker negotiations with Israel, which is India’s strategic partner and among its top arms suppliers.
The Palestinians see East Jerusalem as their future capital. India recently voted for a resolution that criticised US’s decision to move its embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Modi assured President Abbas that India is committed to the Palestinian people’s interests.
“Friendship between India and Palestine has stood the test of time. The people of Palestine have shown remarkable courage in the face of several challenges. India will always support Palestine’s development journey,” Modi said, adding that India is hopeful of peace and stability in the region.