Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas reviews the honour guard with India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi..
(photo credit: REUTERS/MOHAMAD TOROKMAN)
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday lauded what he called “the strong, historic relations” with the Palestinians.
Modi made the comments during the first visit by an Indian prime minister to the West Bank.
India has historically been a strong supporter of the Palestinians, establishing ties with the Palestine Liberation Organization in the 1970s, recognizing the “State of Palestine” in 1988 and sending millions of dollars in aid to the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
However, Modi has taken a number of steps to upgrade his country’s relations with Israel in the past year, overseeing cooperation agreements with the Jewish state, visiting it in July and hosting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
in New Delhi in January.
“Palestine and India enjoy strong, historic relations that have withstood the test of time, and our support for the Palestinian issue has become a fixed element of our foreign policy,” Modi said at a press conference in Ramallah, standing alongside PA President Mahmoud Abbas.
Palestinian officials have taken note of the developing ties between India and Israel, but believe it will not compromise India’s support for the Palestinian issue.
“The Indian prime minister is exclusively coming to Palestine to say we have not forgotten our historic alliance and even if our international calculations forced us to develop wider relations with Israel, that will not be at the expense of the Palestinian people,” Nabil Sha’ath, Abbas’s international affairs adviser, told official PA television on Thursday.
Modi visited the West Bank on Saturday, without traveling to Israel, as a part of his policy to “de-hyphenate” India’s relations with Israel and the Palestinians.
Last week, B. Bala Bhaskar, a joint secretary in the Indian Ministry of External Affairs, told reporters that India sees its ties with Israel and the Palestinians as “exclusive and independent” of each other.
As part of his visit to the West Bank, Modi laid a wreath on the tomb of former PA president and PLO chairman Yasser Arafat and toured the 15-month-old Yasser Arafat Museum.
According to museum director Muhammad Halayka, Modi is the first prime minister to visit the site.
During Saturday’s press conference, Modi expressed admiration for Arafat.
“At Abu Ammar’s tomb, I had the opportunity to pay my respects,” he said, referring to Arafat by his nickname. “He was one of the great leaders of our time.”
Modi also said that the way to achieve peace between Israel and the Palestinians is “dialogue and mutual understanding,” adding that “the cycle of violence and burden of history can be overcome through intense diplomacy.”
Modi did not mention President Donald Trump’s decisions to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and initiate the relocation of the US Embassy to the city.
Nonetheless, in December, India supported a UN General Assembly resolution that criticized Trump’s decisions regarding Jerusalem.
For his part, Abbas said the Palestinians “are relying on India... to contribute to achieving a just peace in our region.”
Since Trump’s decisions on Jerusalem, Abbas has said the Palestinians will no longer work with an American-dominated peace process and has called for the establishment of a multilateral peace process to replace it.
Abbas has asked several countries around the world to mediate and support such an initiative.
The PA president also thanked Modi for backing a number of aid projects for Palestinians.
Before the press conference, Indian and PA ministers signed four agreements that outline Indian commitments to fund development projects and other initiatives in the West Bank, including a $29 million pledge to help construct a hospital in the Bethlehem area.