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Benjamin Netanyahu 'disappointed' by India's vote on Jerusalem issue but hopes one vote won't affect ties

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrived in India on Sunday on a "historic" six-day visit, during which he will hold extensive talks with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Netanyahu said that the visit would provide him with an opportunity to enhance bilateral cooperation with a "global economic, security, technology and tourism power".

Prime Minister Narendra Modi receives his Israeli counterpart Benjamin Netanyahu ,in New Delhi on Sunday.PTI

Prime Minister Narendra Modi receives his Israeli counterpart Benjamin Netanyahu in New Delhi on Sunday.PTI

"We are strengthening ties between Israel and this important global power. This serves our security, economic, trade and tourism interests, as well as many other areas. This is a great blessing for the state of Israel," Netanyahu said before his visit.

Netanyahu's visit to India is only the second one by an Israeli prime minister and comes after a gap of 15 years. The visit also marks 25 years since the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two nations. His visit assumes even more significance as it comes just over six months after the visit of Modi to Israel, the first ever Indian prime ministerial visit to the West Asian nation.

While Netanyahu's visit comes days after India voted against Israel at the UN on the Jerusalem issue, Netanyahu's visit to India is expected to focus on economic issues and Palestine will not be the central part of discussions with Modi, Israeli daily Jerusalem Post reported.

Dubbing India-Israel relationship as a "marriage made in heaven", Netanyahu said that even though the Jewish state was "disappointed" by India's vote at the UN against the Jerusalem issue, one negative vote will not affect the ties.

Netanyahu said he hoped that his visit to India will strengthen cooperation between the two countries in various areas like technology, agriculture and other spheres that are changing the world.

"Yes, naturally we were disappointed, but this visit is a testimony that our relationship is moving on so many fronts forward," Netanyahu said when asked to comment on India's vote at UN against the US decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

"I don't think one vote affects a general trend you can see in many other votes and these visits," he told 'India Today' in an interview.

Last month, India joined 127 other countries to vote in the United Nations General Assembly in favour of a resolution opposing the recent decision of US President Donald Trump to recognise Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

The resolution was approved with 127-9 at the UN General Assembly.

"First of all, there is a special relationship between the two countries, between their people and then between the leaders. The partnership between India and Israel is a marriage made in heaven but consecrated on earth," Netanyahu said.

The Jerusalem Post also quoted un unnamed Israeli diplomatic officials as saying they did not expect India's vote against Israel on the Jerusalem issue in the UN General Assembly last month to cloud the visit. "The issue is behind us," one diplomatic official said.

Modi broke protocol to receive Netanyahu at the airport

Setting aside protocol, Modi received his Israeli counterpart with a hug upon his arrival.

"Welcome to India, my friend PM @netanyahu! Your visit to India is historic and special. It will further cement the close friendship between our nations," Modi tweeted in English and Hebrew.

Netanyahu, who arrived with his wife Sara and a high-level business delegation, tweeted, "We have landed in India. Thank you to my good friend Narendra Modi for the warm welcome!" Netanyahu also shared a video of Modi's greeting, saying, "Thank you to my good friend, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi who surprised me with a personal welcome at the airport upon my arrival in India. Together we will bring the relations between our countries to new heights!"

According to Israeli officials, Netanyahu was pleasantly surprised by Modi welcoming him at the airport. "I very much appreciate the gesture," Netanyahu was quoted as saying by officials. During Modi's visit to Israel last year, Netanyahu had also received the Indian prime minister at the airport. In another tweet later in the afternoon, the Israeli prime minister tweeted, "My first visit to India, a world power that is strengthening its relations with Israel. I am excited about this historic week that will further strengthen Israel's international standing." Teen Murti Chowk renamed after Israeli city Haifa Modi and Netanyahu later attended a ceremony to rename Teen Murti Chowk in central Delhi as Teen Murti-Haifa Chowk. They also laid a wreath and signed the visitor's book at the memorial. In the visitor's book, Modi wrote that he saluted the "great Indian traditions of selfless sacrifice and penance" of Indian soldiers, who laid down their lives during the liberation of the city of Haifa and the First World War.

"One of these pages was written 100 years ago, in the sacrifice of Indian soldiers at Haifa. The sacrifice commemorated at Teen Murti observes its centenary. Naming this spot as Teen Murti-Haifa Chowk marks this historic occasion. In the presence of the prime minister of Israel, we pay homage to the brave soldiers," Modi wrote in the visitor's book.

The three bronze statues at Teen Murti represent the Hyderabad, Jodhpur and Mysore Lancers who were part of the 15 Imperial Service Cavalry Brigade. The brigade carried out the victorious assault on the fortified city of Haifa on 23 September, 1918, during World War I. There are various accounts of this battle — all narrate the valour with which the lancers undertook the assault on the garrisoned city protected by a joint force of Ottomans, Germany and Austria-Hungary. Till date, the 61 Cavalry celebrates 23 September as its Raising Day or "Haifa Day".

The renaming gesture underscores the special link and the common history between Israel and India, Netanyahu said after the event.

External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said the memorial was renamed "in memory of supreme sacrifice by Indian soldiers to liberate Haifa in 1918". Forty-four Indian soldiers were killed during the liberation of the city in World War I. Sushma Swaraj calls on Netanyahu External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj met Netanyahu at the at Taj Diplomatic Enclave in New Delhi.  During the meeting, Netanyahu told Swaraj that he was overwhelmed by the warmth he received upon his arrival. He also said that his visit can catapult bilateral ties to the next level. Swaraj said that at the meeting, they held, "Warm and engaging conversation on various aspects of our bilateral ties aimed at strengthening our strategic partnership."

Netanyahu also tweeted about this interaction, saying, "We are here in India on a historic visit. It is important for the State of Israel that one of the world's major powers wants to develop close relations in many areas – economics, trade, security and agriculture."

Later, Modi hosted a private dinner for Netanyahu and his wife at his official residence at 7, Lok Kalyan Marg.

Netanyahu's itinerary for his stay in India

During the Israeli prime minister's visit, several MoUs, including in the field of defence, oil and gas, renewable energy, amended protocol for airports, cybersecurity, and co-production of films and documentaries are expected to be signed between the two nations.

Netanyahu will be formally welcomed at the Rashtrapati Bhavan, the presidential palace, on Monday followed by a visit to Rajghat, the memorial to Mahatma Gandhi. During his stay, Netanyahu will also visit Gujarat and Mumbai. On 15 January, Netanyahu will meet the Indo-Israeli CEO forum in New Delhi and address a separate business event. He will deliver a speech at the Raisina Dialogue on 16 January. Netanyahu will also call on President Ram Nath Kovind.

He will then leave for Ahmedabad on the morning of 17 January. In Ahmedabad, he will visit the Sabarmati Ashram. Modi and Netanyahu will also visit the Center of Excellence in Vadrad and inaugurate a Center of Excellence for date palms in Bhuj via video conferencing.

The Israeli prime minister will have a number of engagements in Mumbai on 18 January. The Israeli embassy had said that Netanyahu will meet with Jewish community leaders and select members of the Indian business community in Mumbai.

The Israeli embassy said he will reach out to Bollywood in an exclusive "Shalom Bollywood" event. In Mumbai, he will also attend a ceremony at the Chabad House, which will be attended by Moshe Holtzberg. Fondly known as baby Moshe, the 11-year-old's parents were killed in the Chabad House during the 26/11 terror strike, which had come under attack.

Netanyahu will return to Israel on Friday afternoon from Mumbai.

With inputs from agencies


Updated Date: Jan 15, 2018 06:59 AM

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