India is unwavering in its committment to the Palestinian cause, President Pranab Mukherjee said in Jordan Sunday, ahead of a trip to the West Bank Monday and Israel the day after.
Mukherjee is scheduled to meet Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah on Monday before traveling to the Jewish state Tuesday, in the highest-ever level visit by an Indian official to Israel, and a sign of flowering ties between Jerusalem and Delhi.
During the three-day visit, Mukherjee will meet with with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, and opposition leader Isaac Herzog.
Mukherjee is also slated to deliver an address at a special Knesset plenary session.
The trip comes amid ongoing efforts to boost ties between the India and Israel. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who took office last year, has made developing cooperation with Israel a focus for his government’s diplomatic policies.
But ahead of his arrival in Israel, Mukherjee has indicated that India does not plan on abandoning its traditional support for Palestinian statehood.
Speaking at the University of Jordan in Amman — where he arrived Saturday on route to Israel — Mukherjee said that closer ties with Israel did not change India’s position on the Palestinian issue.
“India’s traditional support to the Palestinian cause remains steadfast and unwavering while we pursue strong relations with Israel,” he stated.
Quoting a speech by India’s founder Mahatma Gandhi, Mukherjee said, “Palestine belongs to the Arabs in the same sense that England belongs to the English and France to the French.”
The quote is taken from a speech given by Ghandi in 1938 in which he presents his opposition to Zionism saying it would be “a crime against humanity to reduce the proud Arabs so that Palestine can be restored to the Jews partly or wholly as their national home.”
On Tuesday Mukherjee will lay a wreath at the grave of former Palestinian Authority chair Yasser Arafat before meeting with current president Mahmoud Abbas.
He will also visit the contentious Al Quds University in Jerusalem – the site of a number of violent protests in recent weeks – to receive an honorary doctorate from the institution.
On Thursday Mukherjee will receive an honorary doctorate from Jerusalem’s Hebrew University.
Indian media reported Israel had refused a request for Mukherjee to visit the Temple Mount but sources in the Foreign Ministry denied such a request had been made.
Earlier this year, an Israeli official announced that Mukherjee would visit Israel instead of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was previously slated to come.
The India-based Economic Times reported in July that the switch was made after a “recalibration of official thinking.” The report said the move was aimed to shy away from what could be perceived as an overly pro-Israel diplomatic outlook.
However, the Israeli official said the switch was not to be construed as a slight against the Jewish state and that a presidential visit was considered better for developing bilateral ties than one by a prime minister.
Rivlin this week called Mukherjee’s upcoming visit an “important milestone” in relations between Jerusalem and New Delhi.
In July, India abstained in a vote on a UN Human Rights Council resolution that backed a report critical of Israel’s behavior during last summer’s war in Gaza.
The Palestinians were “shocked” at India’s move, said the Palestinian Authority’s ambassador to India, Adnan Abu Alhaija. “The Palestinian people and leaders were very happy with the UN resolution, but the voting of India has broken our happiness,” he said.
Although New Delhi emphasized that its vote did not signify any change in its policy of support for the Palestinian cause, India’s abstention was celebrated in Israel as a remarkable diplomatic achievement.
India has sought closer defense ties with Israel in recent years, but has also looked to keep from offending hundreds of millions of Muslims who call India home.
Tamar Pileggi and Stuart Winer contributed to this report.