Prime Minister Narendra Modi will meet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday marking a distinct shift in India’s position on the West Asian conflict. As The Hindu had reported a week ago, the meeting was kept under wraps till the last minute, but officials had been trying to schedule it for a few weeks.
According to sources, Mr. Netanyahu was unable to leave Tel Aviv until Sunday owing to the religious holidays of Rosh Hoshanah and Yom Kippur, and that had cast a doubt on the schedule of the meeting. Speaking to agency PTI after the announcement, an Israeli government official said “We attach immense importance to our ties with India and see this meeting as very important.” On October 1st, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj will also meet her Israeli counterpart Avigdor Lieberman.
During the meeting, the two Prime Ministers will speak about improving bilateral ties and bilateral trade at about $6 billion, on a range of issues from cooperation in agriculture to cooperation on anti-terror technology. Israel is one of a handful of countries that Mr. Modi visited as Chief Minister of Gujarat, and according to a senior BJP official, “the meeting will solidify the relations the BJPs leadership has always had right from our support for the recognition of Israel in 1992.” Mr. Netanyahu has invited Mr. Modi to visit Israel soon, and if Mr. Modi goes he will be the first Indian Prime Minister to do so.
There are other factors that denote the shift in India’s position. To begin with, the Prime Minister will be meeting Mr. Netanyahu, but has not met with Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas who was here in New York at the same time. In the past few years, India has taken a more nuanced position on the Palestinian-Israel conflict, away from its pro-Palestine stance of the past. While India voted against Israel at the UN Human Right Council this year during the recent conflict in Gaza where more than 2,200 people were killed, for example, the government refused to condemn Israel’s actions in its statement.
Mr. Modi’s speech at the UN also saw a departure from the past years, when the Indian speech regularly made references to the “Palestinian struggle” in the past. Even in 2013, after the Indian shift in public statements, the former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had made a reference to the Palestinian claim on east Jerusalem as capital.