Since the election of India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, New Delhi has abstained, rather than vote against Israel in 3 UN votes, leading concern among some Palestinians that they were losing a reliable ally despite Indian President Pranab Mukherjee’s seemingly anti-Israel rhetoric.
By HERB KEINON
Even as the current wave of terror rages on, Indian President Pranab Mukherjee is scheduled to travel from Jordan to the Palestinian Authority on Monday, and then come to Israel the next day for the first ever visit here by an Indian head of state.
This is also the first visit to Jordan by an Indian president. India’s Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, is expected to visit Israel in the coming months.
Speaking in Amman at the University of Jordan, where he received an honorary doctorate, Mukherjee was quoted by the Press Trust of India as saying Sunday that “India’s traditional support to the Palestinian cause remains steadfast and unwavering while we pursue strong relations with Israel. Our bilateral relations [with Israel] are independent of our relations with Palestine.”
In recent months New Delhi, which has pursued closer ties with Israel since the election of Narendra Modi in 2014, has abstained – rather than vote against Israel – in three UN votes over the last several months, leading to concern among some Palestinians that they were losing a reliable ally.
The Indian president seemed intent on dispelling that notion in his address Sunday, quoting from Mahatma Gandhi in saying, “Palestine belongs to the Arabs in the same sense that England belongs to the English and France to the French.” Gandhi held a negative position toward Zionism, writing in 1938 that “The cry for a national home for the Jews does not make much appeal to me.”
“India,” Mukherjee said, “supports a negotiated solution resulting in a sovereign, independent, viable and united State of Palestine, with East Jerusalem as its capital, living within secure and recognized borders.”
Mukherjee is scheduled to travel on Monday to Ramallah for meetings with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and other top Palestinian officials.
During his overnight stay in the PA, Mukherjee is also scheduled to be awarded an honorary doctorate from Al Quds University, and inaugurate the Jawaharlal Nehru Secondary School at Abu Dis, named after India’s first prime minister. A visit to the Temple Mount has evidently been scuttled because of security precautions.
The Indian president is scheduled to begin his formal program in Israel on Tuesday afternoon with a wreath laying ceremony at the tomb of Theodor Herzl, followed by a visit to Yad Vashem. In the evening he will host a reception at the King David Hotel for representatives of the Indian Jewish community in Israel.
On Wednesday he will begin his day with a meeting with President Reuven Rivlin, followed by a speech to the Knesset. He is also scheduled to meet with Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, Opposition head Isaac Herzog, and former president Shimon Peres before attending a state dinner in his horror at the President’s residence.
On Thursday he will receive an honorary doctorate from Hebrew University, sign an agreement on academic cooperation, and then meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Mukherjee’s visit is coming at a time of close cooperation between Israel and India, and is symbolic not only of improved ties, but also the fact that New Dehli no longer feels the need to keep these ties and the bilateral cooperation low-profile and out of the public eye.
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