Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Saturday asked visiting Indian Prime Minister Narenda Modi to help mediate a deal with Israel as he continued to seek an alternative to the US as the main peace broker.
Abbas, who was speaking during a joint press conference with visiting Indian Prime Minister Narenda Modi, said the Palestinians seek a two-state solution “based on the 1967 borders and international resolution (pertaining to the Israeli Arab conflict).”
It was the first visit of an Indian prime minister to Ramallah in 30 years. Modi’s visit comes one month after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to India.
Ties between the US and the PA hit a nadir following US President Donald Trump’s December 6 declaration that the US would recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, with Abbas declaring the US could no longer serve as an “honest broker” in peace talks. Abbas has also refused to meet with US officials, including Vice President Mike Pence.
The US has cut funding to the Palestinians, saying it would only resume once they return to peace talks.
Abbas again denied that he was refusing to return to the negotiating table with Israel, saying he was prepared to do so on the basis of a multilateral mechanism where several countries would sponsor the peace talks.
“We want to see Palestine and Israel living in peace and security,” Abbas added. “We want East Jerusalem to be the capital of the Palestinian state.”
Abbas expressed hope that India, which he described as a “world power that has a big status and weight,” would contribute to achieving peace between the Palestinians and Israel. “Such a peace deal will have a positive impact on world security and peace,” he said.
Abbas thanked Modi for India’s support for various Palestinian projects, saying this will enhance bilateral relations and serve the Palestinian population.
“In this regard, we affirm our keenness to strengthen our relations in security matters and combating terrorism,” the PA president said.
The Indian were traditionally very close to the Palestinians but in recent years have developed very close ties to Israel as seen in the visit of Modi to Israel last year and Netanyahu’s visit to India in January.
But on this visit to Ramallah, Modi appeared eager to show that had not affected New Delhi’s traditional support for the Palestinian cause. “Indian and Palestine enjoy strong historic relations,” he said during the joint press conference.
“I have assured President Abbas that India is committed to the Palestinian people’s interests. The relations between India and Palestine have stood the test of time.”
Noting that he had earlier visited the mausoleum of Yasser Arafat, Modi hailed him as “one of the greatest leaders in history.”
Arafat, he added, was a “special friend of India and his contribution to Palestine is historical. It was an unforgettable moment for me to visit a museum dedicated to him. I once again pay tribute to Abu Ammar (Arafat’s nom de guerre).”
This would not have gone down well in Israel, where Arafat is reviled as a long-time terrorist and the leader who led the Palestinians into the bloody Second Intifada.
Modi said that India was proud to help the Palestinians build state institutions and support their budget and projects.
He also expressed hope that peace in the region would be achieved quickly through dialogue and understanding.
On the occasion of the visit, India and the Palestinians signed six agreements concerning infrastructural development in the West Bank.
The agreements include building a hospital in Beit Sahour, near Bethlehem, at the cost of $29 million and the construction of an India Palestine Center for empowering women at a cost $5 million.
In addition, the agreements call for setting up a new National Printing Press in Ramallah at the cost of $5 million and the construction of three schools at the cost of $2.3million.