Israel, India seek to boost ties with presidential visit

Pranab Mukherjee, the first Indian head of state to visit Jerusalem, will also travel to Jordan and the West Bank

Tamar Pileggi is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, right, and President Pranab Mukherjee seen surrounded by members of staff in New Delhi, July 28, 2015. (AFP/PRAKASH SINGH)
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, right, and President Pranab Mukherjee seen surrounded by members of staff in New Delhi, July 28, 2015. (AFP/PRAKASH SINGH)

The president of India, Pranab Mukherjee, will make an official state visit to Israel next week amid ongoing efforts to boost ties between the two countries.

Mukherjee, the first Indian head of state to visit Israel, will also travel to the Palestinian Authority and Jordan during his six-day visit to the region.

President Reuven Rivlin called Mukherjee’s upcoming visit an “important milestone” in relations between Jerusalem and New Dehli.

The president said in a statement Tuesday that meeting with his Indian counterpart would serve to “deepen the friendship between our states, in the fields of economy, science, medicine, and agriculture.”

During the three-day visit, Mukherjee will also meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, and opposition leader Isaac Herzog.

Mukherjee is slated to deliver an address at a special Knesset plenary session.

India’s NDTV reported on Sunday that the president would likely sign preliminary agreements for future bilateral cooperation in a number of fields.

The statement from Rivlin’s office said that Israel viewed the improving ties with India as “very important,” and was “delighted by the occasion of the first visit of an Indian president to Israel.”

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.

Modi, who was elected prime minister last year, has made developing cooperation with Israel a focus for his government’s diplomatic policies.

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.

Stuart Winer contributed to this report.

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