Narendra Modi will be the first Indian prime minister to travel to Israel, a visit that will finally bring one of the world’s close relationships out of the closet. While dates for the trip are yet to be fixed, foreign minister Sushma Swaraj announced she would visit Israel later this year, along with Palestine and Jordan.
Presenting an annual wrap-up of her ministry’s work for the first year, Swaraj also clarified that there was no decision on a cricket series with Pakistan after all and that the Modi government’s diplomacy had resulted in 39% growth in FDI pouring into India in the past year.
Modi’s visit to Israel is almost a foregone conclusion. There aren’t many world leaders he refers to as “my friend”, which is a regular prefix he uses for Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu.
Netanyahu was also the only bilateral meeting he had on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly last year.
India recognized Israel in 1950 but soon after voted against it in the UN. Diplomatic ties were established by Narasimha Rao’s government in 1991, though there had been some unofficial contacts earlier, as in the famous visits by Moshe Dayan.
Jyoti Basu, the communist chief minister of West Bengal, broke ground when he visited Israel. During the Vajpayee years, Jaswant Singh and L K Advani had both visited Israel, but Vajpayee couldn’t.
Ariel Sharon was the first Israeli PM to visit India in 2003, but there have been no high-level visits from India since. Former Israeli president Shimon Peres visited India, but in the past decade, while the real relationship progressed quickly, it was only former foreign minister S M Krishna who travelled to Jerusalem.
Swaraj, meanwhile, fielded questions on a perceived “flip-flop” in her government’s policy on Pakistan, whether China and India could work on “out-of-the-box” solutions to the boundary dispute, and if she maintained a low profile because Modi had put a gag order on her.
India, she said, had moved away from a “goody-goody” formalized dialogue with China. Acknowledging the difficulties in resolving outstanding issues, she said the PM had told the Chinese leadership they should “reconsider” their positions on some old issues. India conveyed its opposition to the Pak-China economic corridor in New Delhi and Beijing, with even the PM clarifying India’s objections to it. The Chinese, she said, have terrorism threats as well, emanating from the same region that threatens India.