Palestinian frustration at being excluded from the first visit to the region by an Indian prime minister burst onto the streets Wednesday with a small but vocal demonstration outside the Indian Representative Office near Ramallah.
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Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s decision not to include Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the schedule of his three-day visit has disappointed Palestinians and prompted some criticism back home.
“We expected him to visit both Israel and Palestine,” Palestinian Deputy Foreign Minister Tasir Jaradat told Al Jazeera, adding that to “play an important role between the two sides and to be able to spread the message of peace, one should visit both.”
Modi and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu signed a series of economic agreements Wednesday, signaling an expansion of defense ties into a broader trade and technology relationship in areas such as water conservation, space and agriculture.
“President Abbas held constructive meetings with India’s prime minister back in May. He was also very well received by the country," PLO Executive Committee Member Hanan Ashrawi said in a statement to Haaretz.
"Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party enjoy strong military and security cooperation with Israel, having recently made a deal to purchase $2 billion worth of weapons technology from them. Nevertheless, we feel that Prime Minister Modi is developing a closer ideological relationship with his Israeli counterpart.”
Wednesday’s protest, organized by a loose coalition of local political groups under the banner of the National and Islamic Forces, was called to denounce rumors that Narendra was considering moving India’s embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and to object to the deepening economic and strategic ties between India and Israel.
“We in the Palestinian revolution and the PLO are keen on building special ties with India,” Essam Abu Baker, coordinator of the National and Islamic Forces, told the crowd.
“President Abbas recently made a successful visit to India. However, this apparent shift in India’s position is huge and dangerous. We call on the Indian government to revise its policies. It is inconceivable to reward the occupation for its crimes against the Palestinians by establishing economic and trade ties with it. We are worried about the growing economic and trade ties between India and Israel.”
Demonstrators held banners with the slogans “We call on India to stop economic cooperation with the occupation state,” “Boycott Israel and stop military cooperation with it” and “Bring India back to the days of Gandhi.’”
“We came here to remind everyone of the friendly and historic relationship between India and Palestine,” Hilmi Al Araj, one of the demonstrators, told local media. “We also wish to remind India that the Palestinians are still suffering under the yoke of occupation. We want India to assume its responsibility and force the occupation to comply with the legitimate rights of our people.”
Since Modi arrived, the Palestinian media has been filled with anonymous comments expressing deep disappointment with the “shift” in India’s policy in favor of Israel and what critics see as increased Israeli “infiltration” into India and other countries in the region. There was also surprise that Modi did not schedule even one meeting with the Palestinian president during his visit, in stark contrast to the brief but apparently constructive encounter between Abbas and U.S. President Donald Trump in Bethlehem last month.
Modi’s itinerary has also raised eyebrows back home. Shashi Tharoor, a Congress MP and former minister, welcomed the Israel visit as deepening a “very important relationship which I believe India needs to sustain, while at the same time making sure it’s not at the expense of our traditional loyalty and ties with Palestinians and the Palestinian cause.”
But in an interview with News 18 TV, Tharoor said Modi had informed Arab states that the current visit would be limited to Israel.
“The government of India has made sure that the right balance between our relationship with Arab countries and Israel is struck,” he said. “It was the duty of the government to attend to the concerns of domestic and international voices, and make them understand that the relationship with Israel was as important as our relationship with Arab countries.”
The far-left Communist Party of India (Marxist) was not impressed.
“The visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Israel marks a rupture in the long-held position of India which has viewed Israel as an occupying power of Palestinian territories,” the party said in a statement.
It branded India’s “strategic partnership” with Israel “a virtual abandonment of the Palestinian cause” that was “reinforced by Modi not visiting Ramallah and the Palestinian Authority. Throughout the visit, the Indian prime minister did not say a word about India’s stand on the issue of a Palestinian State.”
The party demanded that “all security and military cooperation with Israel be ended forthwith.”