Netanyahu sends envoy to speed up Modi visit

Israeli PM sent his most trusted aide to Delhi on September 2 to enquire about the reason for the delay.

September 20, 2015 02:22 am | Updated October 18, 2016 02:19 pm IST - NEW DELHI:

Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Even as preparations are in full swing for President Pranab Mukherjee’s visit to Israel in October, the Israeli government seems to be impatient because India is yet to finalise the dates for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit.

Sources have confirmed to The Hindu that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sent his most trusted and powerful aide Yossi Katribas to New Delhi on September 2 to enquire about the reason for the delay in the announcement of Mr. Modi’s plans.

According to the Israeli Embassy here, Mr. Katribas, the Deputy Director-General in the Prime Minister’s Office, was in Delhi for meetings on “Digital India, agricultural cooperation and water technology.”

However, highly placed sources say the real purpose was to try and begin negotiations on the dates for Mr. Modi’s visit. Israeli officials were also surprised that External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, who had promised a visit to Israel soon, travelled to neighbouring Egypt in August, dropping the country from her itinerary.

“External Affairs Minister Swaraj’s declaration cheered up Israel but that has not been followed up with the declaration of a travel date from the Indian Prime Minister. We are glad about the coming visit of President Pranab Mukherjee, but the non-declaration of the date of a prime ministerial visit intrigues us,” Anat Bernstein-Reich, chairperson of the Israel-India Chamber of Commerce, told The Hindu. Ms. Bernstein-Reich has been closely involved in visits to Israel by Union Ministers Rajnath Singh and Nitin Gadkari in the past year.

While the Ministry of External Affairs has consistently denied that any date has been discussed for Mr. Modi’s visit, speculation had been growing ever since Ms. Swaraj announced at a press conference on May 31 that Mr. Modi would visit Israel, to become the first Indian Prime Minister to travel to Jerusalem. Ms. Swaraj also said she would visit Israel and “so far as the Prime Minister is concerned, he will also be visiting.”

Although she added that “no dates have been fixed,” officials had said the visit was expected at the end of 2015 or the “first part of 2016,” something both the Ambassador of Israel to India and the Palestinian Ambassador had also confirmed to The Hindu at the time. Even after four months, there has been little progress in the Prime Minister’s Office on fixing the dates. This caused some consternation in Mr. Netanyahu’s office and reportedly led to Mr. Katribas’ mission.

Officials would not confirm whether Mr. Katribas was able to take home some positive news, but speculation is rife in Israel about the reasons preventing the Indian leader from landing in Jerusalem on a historic visit. Some have said resistance from India’s allies in the Arab world was the reason for the delay, especially in view of India’s desire for wider discussion on a permanent membership in the United Nations Security Council at the U.N. General Assembly session this month. Critics in Delhi even suggest that it is the strain in the ties between U.S. President Barack Obama and Mr. Netanyahu over the Iran peace deal that have created a hurdle to an early Modi-Netanyahu summit in Jerusalem. “The real issue is that if Mr. Modi fails to arrive in Israel this year, the announcement by the Indian External Affairs Minister will appear to be hollow. This will also show that the Israel-India ties are dependent upon the will of the superpower and are yet to acquire any independent political dynamism of their own. Such decisions should be carefully weighed before being taken,” CPI leader D. Raja said.

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