NEW DELHI: In what is being projeced as a major development, India’s External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj paid a visit to Palestine and eloquently explained India’s position towards Palestine during her visit on January 16-17. She reiterated that India supports the Palestinian cause and aims for ‘closer political interaction and deeper economic engagement.’

Swaraj, who served from 2006 to 2009 as chair of the Indo-Israeli Parliamentary Friendship Group, last came to the country in 2008.

While inaugurating the India-Palestine Digital Learning and Innovation Centre at the Al-Quds University, Swaraj also mentioned how India’s support to the Palestinian cause is rooted in our very own freedom struggle. In the coming years, India would build another Centre for Excellence in ICT and Innovation in Gaza city and develop a Techno-Park in Ramallah.

If scrutinized minutely, the Palestinian visit marked by Swaraj before she met Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other top ministers of Israeli government signifies a major foreign policy move. But irrespective of it, the larger question still looms – why so late?

1. Why has the Indian government taken no step regarding the polite request of Palestine Ambassador to India Adnan Abu Alhaija to boycott Israel-made goods in India? Why is the BDS movement, be it in the academic or cultural circle not gaining momentum?

2. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has visited several countries, but not Palestine. Does why did Palestine not figure out in his itinerary till now? Does it symbolize, that as the Head of the India’s Executive Body, the delayed visit of the Indian Prime Minister spells closer association with Israel, the Zionist State? Nevertheless, when PM Modi visits Israel, he would be the first Prime Minister of India to do so.

3. Will India welcome the visit of Mahmoud Abbas, President of the State of Palestine, especially after PM Modi met Abbas in New York in 2015?

4. Also, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has openly told Indian President Pranab Mukherjee to change the country’s stance towards Palestine. He has often referred to PM Modi as ‘Dear Friend’ in the Knesset and speaks to him ‘quite often’. So, in this context, what does ‘closer political relation with Palestine’ as stated by the External Affairs Ministry, actually mean?

Israeli pressure is felt by India. It is the second largest arms exporter. For economic, technological and critical defence supplies, Israel is definitely more important to India. Since, 1992 India has established official relations with Israel, after the collapse of the USSR. At the same time, recognizing the sovereignty of Palestine is a principled position and doing otherwise would malign India’s image.

India’s recent abstention from two United Nations votes condemning Israel for human-rights abuses in the Gaza Strip exposes a totally different foreign policy narrative.

Palestinian Ambassador Adnan Abu Alhaija, quite ‘shocked’ at Indian abstention stated that it ‘marked a departure from Delhi’s traditional position.’ PM Netanyahu had called MP Modi to speak about the United National Human Rights Council resolution against Israel a day before it took place. Sources close to the Prime Minister here revealed that though he had not committed how ‘India would vote’, it was a positive conversation. The next day, India abstained. It was the first time in decades that India had abstained from a decision against Israel in an international forum.

With PM Modi’s impending visit to Israel and bilateral trade adding up to billions of dollars,India’s relationship with Israel is growing. So why the façade of ‘cultural and economic’ cooperation with Palestine, which is at best ambiguous? How can India, being a leader of the Non-Aligned Movement turn a blind eye to Israel, which is engaging in the 21st century’s most violent apartheid against Palestine?

For how long will the top echelons of New Delhi stand silent to the slaughter of Palestinians in West Bank and Gaza till date and cover it up in the camouflage of foreign visits which have very little significance. The reasoning behind such foreign visits is still debatable as bestowing a temporary touch of diplomacy, they attain absolutely nothing except justify a visit to Israel at home and in parts of the world that still pay lip service to the Palestinian cause.

(The writer is a PhD scholar in Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi)