On India visit, PM and Modi sign nine cooperation agreements

Netanyahu: Abbas ‘helping’ Israel with anti-Semitic, anti-Trump rant

Israeli leader says PA chief’s refusal to recognize Jewish state is ‘root of conflict’; says he warned Europeans it was their ‘last chance’ to fix the Iran nuclear deal

Joshua Davidovich is The Times of Israel's Deputy Editor

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara pay a floral tribute at the grave of Mahatama Gandhi in New Delhi, India on January 15, 2018. (Avi Ohayon/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara pay a floral tribute at the grave of Mahatama Gandhi in New Delhi, India on January 15, 2018. (Avi Ohayon/GPO)

NEW DELHI, India — Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is serving Israel’s interests by lashing out against Washington and against a Jewish connection to Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday, a day after the Palestinian leader angrily rejected US President Donald Trump’s approach to the Middle East peace process.

“He exposed what we have been saying all the time, that the root of the conflict is the basic refusal to recognize a Jewish state in any borders,” Netanyahu said from New Delhi, where he is on an official state visit, adding that the Palestinians would find no mediator to replace the Americans.

Abbas’s speech Sunday night was filled with  perceived anti-Semitic comments, including denials of a Jewish connection to the Land of Israel. He went so far as to imply that European Jews during the Holocaust chose to undergo “murder and slaughter” rather than emigrate to British-held Palestine, and alleged that the State of Israel’s first prime minister David Ben-Gurion imported Jews from Yemen and Iraq to the country against their will.

The Palestinian leader further asserted that the State of Israel was formed as “a colonial project that has nothing to do with Judaism” to safeguard European interests.

Netanyahu was speaking hours after meeting with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on his first official trip to New Delhi. The two only briefly touched on the Palestinian issue, according to a joint statement following the meeting, with both affirming “their support for an early resumption of peace talks.”

The meeting came a day after Netanyahu expressed “disappointment” with India for having voted in favor of a resolution condemning Trump’s recognition of Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at a joint press conference at the president’s house in New Delhi, India, January 15, 2018. ( Avi Ohayon/GPO)

Abbas has raged against the American decision, breaking off diplomatic contacts with Washington, and on Sunday the Palestinian leader caustically reacted to a Trump’s expected peace plan that reportedly wanted the Palestinians to accept Jerusalem suburb Abu Dis as its capital, calling it “the slap of the century.”

“We told Trump we will not accept his project, the ‘deal of the century,’ which has become the ‘slap of the century,’” Abbas said. “But we will slap back.”

“We do not take instructions from anyone, and say ‘no’ to anyone if it is about our destiny, our cause, our country and our people… 1,000 times no,’” he said, opening a meeting of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s Central Council in Ramallah.

On Monday, Netanyahu said Abbas’s statement, both in content and in the way it was said, would “aid” Israeli efforts to explain its position to a skeptical international community.

“Without a change in the stance that Abbas expressed, there will not be peace,” Netanyahu said. “Today when I speak about it to world leaders, it will be more clear to them.”

Other Israeli officials have also sharply criticized Abbas, with Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman saying Monday he had “lost his senses.”

Netanyahu accused Abbas of being “afraid of US peace initiatives” and wanting to remove the US from the peace process and find another mediator, an idea rejected by the Israeli leader.

“There is nobody else,” he said.

“For too long, the PA has been pampered by the international community, which would not bother telling them the truth,” Netanyahu said. “This is the first time someone told him the truth.”

‘Last chance for nuke deal’

An official with India’s Foreign Ministry said Netanyahu and Modi had discussed reform at the United Nations, but not the Iran nuclear deal, which has proved a point of contention as New Delhi has remained a major consumer of Iranian oil.

Netanyahu told Israeli journalists he had spoken with other world leaders recently about the nuclear deal, telling them to “take Trump seriously” about pulling out of the 2015 pact, which curbs Iranian enrichment in exchange for sanctions relief.

On Friday, Trump announced he would continue to extend sanctions, but warned it would be the last time if the deal was not reworked.

Netanyahu said he told European leaders that it was “the last chance to fix the deal.”

“I think people are starting to understand, maybe a bit late,” he said.

‘Working’ on reviving missile deal

Monday marked the second day of Netanyahu’s visit to India, leading a delegation of business leaders meant to boost economic ties between the countries. It began with the Israeli leader attending an official honor guard at the Presidential Palace and laying a wreath at a memorial for Ghandi.

On Monday night, Netanyahu and Modi attended a business summit bringing together industrialists from both countries.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a welcome ceremony at the president’s house in New Delhi, India on January 15, 2018. (Avi Ohayon/GPO)

The visit has been clouded over by the recent announcement that Delhi had canceled a $500 million deal with the Israeli arms manufacturer Rafael for Spike anti-tank missiles.

Netanyahu would only offer that Israel is “working on it,” when asked if the deal had a chance of being revived. Another senior Israeli official also said it was unclear if Israel had any hopes of putting the deal back on the agenda.

However, at a joint press conference following their meeting, preceded by the exchange of nine Memorandums of Understanding and letters of intent in tech, cyber, agriculture and other fields, both Netanyahu and Modi spoke of the growing relationship between the countries.

“Our discussions today were marked by convergence to accelerate our engagement and to scale up our partnership,” Modi said, announcing the opening of an Indian cultural center in Israel and welcoming his counterpart in broken Hebrew.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (center), his wife Sara and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at a welcome ceremony at the president’s house in New Delhi, India, on January 15, 2018. (Avi Ohayon/GPO)

Israel and India are major trade partners, though most of the billions of dollars exchanging hands yearly are wrapped up in diamonds and defense, and  both countries would like to diversify.

The nine agreements signed include beginning work on a free trade pact as well as an initial approval for Indian energy companies to explore for oil and gas in the eastern Mediterranean Sea.

Netanyahu praised Modi as having “revolutionized the relationship between Israel and India,” which is marking 25 years of ties, though the Israeli premier said they had only begun to become close recently.

“We are ushering today a new era in our relations,” he said. “We’ve had diplomatic relations for 25 years but something different is happening now because of your leadership and because of our partnership.”

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