With respect to its relation with Israel, India faces a tricky situation. India, in the 1940s, opposed the creation of the State of Israel. Traditionally, India has been one of the vocal supporters for the cause of the Palestinian State. The late PLO leader, Yasser Arafat always regarded India as a friend of Palestinian people.
From independence till now, India has cautiously balanced its policy towards various actors and coalitions in West Asia. India depends on West Asian powers for securing hydrocarbon resources. Warm relations with the Arab powers also gives India a foothold and credibility in the Islamic world, which is crucial for isolating Pakistan as well as for preventing internationalizing the Kashmir issue.
Much of India’s relation with the Arab World has come at the expense of normalizing its ties with Israel.
Since 1992, however, both the Congress party and the BJP have developed significant defense and trade relations with Israel while also maintaining a strong commitment to the creation of a Palestinian State.
Given this historical legacy, the current Government will have to tread cautiously in its recent efforts to deepen its engagement with Israel.
For decades, the BJP (presently, the ruling party in the Centre) promoted a political rapprochement with Israel. In a first symbolic move, the then Atal Bihari Vajpayee led government welcomed Ariel Sharon to New Delhi in 2003. However, there was no reciprocal visit to Israel from the Indian side.
After formation of the new government in the Centre in 2014, the Prime Minister showed an interest in upgrading the relationship by regularly meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu. He also annouced his visit to Israel in June 2015 (the proposed visit did not materialise), and encouraging a gradual revision of India’s consistent support for Palestine in multilateral organizations.
However, after originally signaling this pro-Israel shift, India embarked on a course correction by mid-2015 and effectively resumed the policy of multi-engagement of all relevant West Asian actors.
Before traveling to Israel, the Prime Minister has visited the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Iran.
In anticipation of the Israel visit, the Prime Minister also hosted Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in May 2017 and reasserted India’s traditional support for an independent Palestinian nation “at peace with Israel”.
These various developments show that the present government’s policy towards West Asia is to strike a balance among the various actors, which serves India’s strategic interests in the best of the ways.