After West Asia, PM sets his sights on Israel

Will be first-ever call by an Indian premier to the nation.

Updated - May 29, 2016 09:52 am IST

Published - May 29, 2016 12:47 am IST - JERUSALEM/RAMALLAH:

Prime Minister Narendra Modi. File photo.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi. File photo.

With his visits to the rest of West Asia and in particular Iran completed, officials in Israel and Palestine territories are expecting that Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be in Israel early next year.

Senior diplomatic sources in Delhi and Jerusalem confirmed to The Hindu that Mr. Modi is expected here in early 2017, a few months after the visit of Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, who is likely to come to Delhi in September 2016.

The visit will make Mr. Modi the first Indian Prime Minister to ever visit Israel, which MEA sources said could come close to the 25th anniversary of establishment of full diplomatic ties on January 29.

Officials in the BJP confirmed that a senior BJP delegation had already made a visit to prepare for PM Modi’ trip, and for a possible diaspora event for roughly 80,000 people of Indian origin based here. “We are happy for anything that strengthens ties between our motherland and fatherland, between India and Israel,” says restaurant owner Yoel Sugaokar, a Bene-Israeli Jew who migrated to Israel in the 1970s, “It has taken a very long time for a Prime Minister to come, we are looking forward to Mr. Modi’s visit.”

Crucial itinerary In the past year, since External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj announced Mr. Modi would visit Israel, many have also asked if he would visit the Palestinian capital Ramallah on the same trip, or keep Israel as a stand-alone visit. “What we would like to see is that the Indian Prime Minister devotes a lot of his time in Israel to enhance and develop the bilateral relations between our two countries because at the end of the day, what is important is how to make India and Israel closer,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Emmanuel Nahshon told an Indian delegation visiting Israel visiting as part of a programme organised by U.S.-based Project Interchange.

“This is the major issue and we will be extremely happy to host Prime Minister Modi,” Mr. Nahshon told members of the delegation.

Across the divide in Ramallah, officials in the Palestinian National Authority said they “fully” expect Mr. Modi to make a trip to the administered capital of Ramallah during the visit.

“We are hopeful that PM Modi will be visiting the region. And we expect that when he comes, he will visit Ramallah. We were pleased to welcome President Mukherjee and the External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj here already,” Palestinian Legislative Council Political Committee Chairman Dr. Abdullah Abdullah said. He also dismissed reports that Mr. Modi would consider a stand-alone visit only to Israel as “hypothetical”, adding, “We hope and expect India doesn’t change its principles.”

Change in position During the past two years of the NDA government, India has made a perceptible shift away from its traditional tilt towards the Palestinian cause, deciding not to vote against Israel on several crucial United Nations votes, and also sending more cabinet ministers to the country than in the past.

Though India recognised Israel in 1948, it only established full diplomatic ties in 1992 and no Prime Minister has visited yet, although President Mukherjee travelled there in 2015. Mr. Modi’s own visit, that was due to be scheduled a number of times since he took over in 2014, has been put off in view of sensitivities of Gulf countries. In particular, the visit to Iran was closely watched as Israel opposes countries investing in Iran, Mr. Nahshon said. Tel Aviv believes Tehran will continue its nuclear programme once the peace deal has ended.

“If there is one country to which the danger of WMD in the hands of a fanatic does not need to be explained, it is India,” he added.

(The correspondent was in Israel at the invitation of the American Jewish Committee’s Project Interchange)

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