What is India's de-hyphenation policy toward Israel and why does it matter?

The policy is truly a revolution in Indo-Israel ties.

January 18, 2018 23:47
3 minute read.

PM Netanyahu's 5-day trip to India in January 2018 (Video-GPO)

PM Netanyahu's 5-day trip to India in January 2018 (Video-GPO)


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MUMBAI – When Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to power in 2014, he instituted a policy toward Israel called de-hyphenation.

What that meant was simple: India’s relationship with Israel would stand on its own merits, independent and separate from India’s relationship with the Palestinians. It would no longer be India’s relationship with Israel-Palestine, but India’s relationship with Israel, and India’s relationship with the Palestinians.

This policy first became obvious when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with Modi at the UN in 2014, soon after the latter’s election.

When it became clear that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas would not be in New York at the same time, there was concern in Jerusalem that the Indians would call off the meeting with Netanyahu, to preserve a holy balance in its ties with Israel and its ties with the Palestinian Authority.

This “de-hyphenation” was even more apparent when Modi came to Israel last July, when Modi came to Jerusalem but did not go to the Palestinian Authority – he did not feel compelled to balance his trip to Jerusalem with one to Ramallah.

Similarly, he is scheduled to travel to the PA next month, and if does go ahead with that trip, he is not expected to visit Israel. Again, the idea is that relations which each side should stand on their own merits.

Hyphenating the ties with Israel – linking them to ties with the Palestinian Authority – essentially prevented India from pursuing a pragmatic policy of what was in India’s best interests.

This has now changed, and for that reason, Netanyahu characterized Modi this week as a “revolutionary.”

This truly is a revolution in Indo-Israel ties.

However, there is a possible catch. Revolutions do not last forever. During the last five days in India, one could feel a certain urgency on the Israeli side to push the ties forward as fast as possible. The Modi era is finite; there will – at some point of time – be a change of government. And what Israel feels compelled to do is to deepen and broaden the ties across the board so that when the government does change, the relationship with Israel will be so widely accepted and beneficial as to withstand whomever may become the next government leader – just as is the case in America.

Another hyphen, or link, that Israel must strain to avoid is any link between its relations with India and its relations with China.

Israel has strong relations with both countries, though there is considerable tension between the two of them. Diplomatic officials said that China was an issue that came up in talks with Modi. Israel has an interest in preserving ties with both countries. China is a superpower, India wants to be one, and Israel has no interest in being caught between them.

However, this is something that will require a great deal of diplomatic finesse. If India can say to Israel that it can maintain good ties with Israel and the Palestinians – or, for that matter, with Iran – than Israel can say that it is able to have strong ties with India and with China.

This hyphenation, this linking of ties with one country to the interests of a third, is also evident in US ties with Pakistan and India.

Indeed, India is turning to Jewish organizations to try to de-hyphenate those ties, and convince Washington that it can have strong ties with both India and Pakistan; that America’s ties with India do not have to suffer – as they have in the past – because of its alliance with Pakistan.

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