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Indian President’s trip is landmark visit : Israeli Ambassador

By Arvind Padmanabhan

New Delhi, Oct 9 (IANS) Israeli Ambassador to India Daniel Carmon has described President Pranab Mukherjee’s upcoming visit to Jerusalem, the first by an Indian head of state or government, as a “landmark” one and said it showed that both countries were “coming out of the closet”.

He said the ties between the two countries today stood de-hyphenated from Palestine.

The ambassador also said there was no reason to read between the lines on New Delhi’s reported change of plan to let the president make the visit, rather than Prime Minister Narendra Modi, for the first such trip to Israel since full diplomatic relations were established between the two nations in 1992.

“This is a landmark visit. The fact that India’s first citizen is coming to my country is an honour. We see it as a very positive signal to the rest of the world. I am sure other visits will follow from now on,” Carmon told IANS in an exclusive interview at his high-security embassy in central Delhi.

The ambassador also did not see any reason for discomfort in Mukherjee first visiting Palestine – with which Israel is engaged in a long-driven conflict that escalated since the early 1960s, often turning violent on many occasions.

“Our relations with India today are very simple and very clear. We appreciate India’s position that it has a commitment towards the Palestine cause and wants peace and stability in the region. But we have our own dynamics.”

He went on to add that there was, indeed, a point when relations between India and Israel “were influenced by other factors”, alluding to New Delhi’s discomfort in engaging overtly with Tel Aviv, owing to possible misgivings in the Arab world.

“We had to pay a price for that. Now things are changing. It is not a zero-sum game now. The president’s visit shows the ties are getting upgraded at the highest level possible,” he said.

“It shows we are coming out of the closet.”

The envoy said one demonstration of that position from Israel’s point of view was the honour it considers in hosting the Indian president at Knesset, the country’s parliament for a speech, which is not commonplace among visiting dignitaries, and the honorary doctorate being conferred by the prestigious Hebrew University.

The Indian side has also expressed similar views ahead of the visit.

“We closely follow developments in both Israel and Palestine. We have excellent relations with both countries. As far as we are concerned, we would like the tensions to come down,” said Anil Wadhwa, secretary-east in India’s foreign office.

Asked about the reported denial of request on security grounds by the Israeli authorities to a request made by Indian side for the president to visit the Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem, considered the third holiest by Muslims, the envoy rubbished such aspersions.

“The process of the president’s visit has been very elaborate and planned with full cooperation of the two sides. There was no request for a visit (to Al-Aqsa mosque), so there is no question of any denial. We were never asked.”

President Mukherjee leaves here on Saturday on a six-day, packed sojourn to Jordan, Palestine and Israel on a maiden visit to the three countries by an Indian head of state, along with a delegation of lawmakers, officials and academics.

Carmon said ties were not just multi-sectoral but also very intensive in areas spanning culture to defence and homeland security, adding that a host of pacts in these areas will be signed during the visit.

He sited the example of INS Kochi, India’s biggest and indigenously built warship that was commissioned last month and said its two stand-out features – the multi-function surveillance and threat alert radar and the long range surface-to-air missile systems — were jointly developed by India’s Defence Research and Development Organization and Israel Aerospace Industries.

“This is a very positive development. At the same time, as far as I see, there are two other areas which stand out in terms of the potential they hold for an extremely meaningful relation between our two sides. They can potentially benefit the people the most – agriculture and water.”

Israel is known the world over for its cutting-edge technologies in agriculture that enables it not just to produce high-yielding crops in small areas of land, but also with minimal, use of water. Reclaiming water from sea and other sources for human use is another areas of expertise.

With further easing of relations between the two countries, trade is expected to get a boost, which now is around $5 billion between the two, with diamonds — an area dominated globally by Indians and Israelis — constituting over a half of that.

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