Millennium Post

A new era of diplomacy

A new history has been made, indeed. What should have happened in 1948 has happened in 2017. The first Tuesday of July 2017 became the day the first Prime Minister of India set foot on the soil of Israel, ending decades of shaming and shunning by New Delhi of a natural ally and a true friend. Apart from marking a significant warming up of ties between the two countries, it would also express the fulfillment of a long-unrequited desire, dating back to the early days of the Jewish state, for close ties with, and recognition from, India. In those early years, David Ben-Gurion and other key Zionist leaders made strenuous bids for political and diplomatic support from Indian nationalist leaders like Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru.

Ben-Gurion himself made personal contact not only with Central Indian political figures to seek their support but even convinced Albert Einstein, a reluctant Zionist, to write to Jawaharlal Nehru, soon to be India's first Prime Minister, in the summer of 1947 to push for a sympathetic hearing for Zionism. Einstein's four-page letter presented the nuances of political Zionism and highlighted both sides' common predicament: that Jews, like Indians, were very much in need of a state of their own: "Free Jewish immigration to Palestine, and the right of the Jews to continue the upholding of their ancient homeland without artificial restrictions, will increase the sum of well-being in the world. It is time to make an end to the ghetto status of Jews in Palestine, and to the pariah status of Jews among peoples. I trust that you, who so badly have struggled for freedom and justice, will place your great influence on behalf of the claim for justice made by the people who for so long and so dreadfully have suffered from its denial."

But not even Einstein could convince Nehru. India voted against the UN partition plan of Mandate Palestine in 1947 and later, in 1950, extended recognition to the State of Israel but without establishing diplomatic relations. Therefore, July 4 would certainly mark the end of an era when ideological posturing and vacuous morality rode roughshod over pragmatism and reality as the last remnant of 'Nehruvian Consensus', whose dismantling began during the P V Narasimha Rao years, would be discarded with this visit. While Modi has described it as an 'unprecedented visit that will bring our two countries and people closer', Netanyahu has also reciprocated with the first-time decision to accompany Modi virtually all through his visit 'as befits the leader of the world's largest democracy'.

Looking for new agriculture technology as well as high-tech weapons to fuel his military modernisation program, Narendra Modi would focus on security and economic ties with Israel, which is becoming a significant defense partner as India seeks advanced weaponry after relying on the Soviet Union and Russia for most of its military technology. India has traditionally downplayed relations with Israel fearing it would alienate the country's 170 million Muslims. But Modi, a popular Hindu nationalist leader facing weak political opposition at home, is embarking on the trip to Israel with little concern for domestic fallout -- and is skipping a similar visit to meet Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah.

This visit is supposed to derive new dimensions of cooperation between India and Israel, not just on defense, but homeland security, pharmaceuticals, information technology, agriculture, and tourism. India is one of the world's largest arms importers and has emerged as Israel's biggest defense buyer. The South Asian country is saddled with state-owned firms and a slow, bureaucratic military procurement process, even as it faces serious regional and internal security threats. This visit also signals an end to the hyphenation of Israel and Palestine which has been the bane of India's policy. By not stopping over at Ramallah, as has been the practice till now, before visiting Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, Modi has signalled de-hyphenation and segregation.

Away from the pomp and grandeur of a State visit, Modi and Netanyahu will hold intensive and extensive talks, both one on one and accompanied by their official delegations. Not to forget, as Chief Minister of Gujarat he visited Israel and carried back with him strong impressions of Israel's remarkable ability to innovate and effectively apply that innovation, especially in agriculture and water management. It stands to reason that as Prime Minister he would be keen to secure India's access to Israeli innovation and its application to deal with chronic and emerging problems. If New India is to be technology-driven, then both realism and pragmatism suggest the forging of an India-Israeli strategic partnership.

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