With a string of high profile visits planned to Israel in the next one year, the NDA government is confirming its desire to build a new equation with the country that relatively few Indian dignitaries have visited in the past. Sources told The Hindu that President Pranab Mukherjee will travel to Israel in mid-October, and External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj in the next few months.
Speaking at a press conference on May 31, Ms. Swaraj had also confirmed that Prime Minister Narendra Modi will visit Israel — making him the first Indian Premier to do so since New Delhi established full diplomatic relations in 1992 — without setting a date.
President Mukherjee will travel to Palestine and Jordan as well during the visit, officials confirmed.Last week the Israeli government, keen to pursue cooperation on water technology, particularly projects on the Ganga, has invited Urban Development Minister Venkaiah Naidu to its international conference and exhibition “WATEC” scheduled for mid-October.
The visits of the President, Prime Minister and the other ministers mark a considerable shift from the past, when despite a historic trip by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in 2003 and subsequent visits by senior members of the Israeli cabinet, Indian leaders, with the exception of Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna in 2012, have avoided making the visit out of concern for Palestinian sensibilities and those of other West Asian countries.
“After the PM’s visit, I hope to see a normalisation of visits, all leaders meeting as if there was no gap in the twenty years before that (since full diplomatic ties established), or fifty years before that (when Israel was recognised),” Israeli Ambassador Carmon told The Hindu last month.
However a senior official in the MEA denied that the planned trips were part of any change in India’s position.
“These are simply long-overdue reciprocal visits to a country that India has full diplomatic ties with,” the official told The Hindu .
External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj had rejected any “tilt towards Israel” during her press conference in May, and a similar denial was issued by the MEA this month when India abstained from a vote against Israel at the UNHRC. The government’s actions, and planned visits, however, do point to a departure from past policy and are more in line with the BJP’s policy of bettering ties with Israel, a senior party leader told The Hindu .
To a question from The Hindu about the Presidential visit and others, the Israeli embassy in Delhi said it would not comment on the “high level official visits” until dates had been “mutually agreed upon”. However both diplomatic and government sources confirmed that the Prime Minister is expected to travel to Israel in 2016, most probably in the “first half”. In interviews to The Hindu , both Israeli Ambassador Daniel Carmon and Palestinian Ambassador Abu Alhaija had said that they hoped for PM Modi’s visit at the earliest. “We might expect it at the end of this year or the beginning of 2016, but there is no confirmation yet, and neither us nor the Israelis are yet aware of an exact date. We are in the middle of the political discussions on what will be the agenda of the visit,” Ambassador Alhaija had said.