PM Netanyahu and India's Modi.
(photo credit: PRIME MINISTER'S OFFICE)
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu told his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi at the opening of their meeting on Sunday that the “sky is the limit” in Israeli-Indian ties.
Netanyahu, in the first meeting between Israeli and Indian prime minister in 11 years, said that he was “very glad” to meet the new Indian prime minister, and immediately invited him to Israel. Modi visited Israel in 2006 as western state of Gujarat.
“We are two old people, some of the oldest civilizations on earth,” he said. “But also two democracies, proud of our tradition, but also eager to seize the future. I believe that if we work together it will be for the benefit of both our peoples.”
Before boarding a plane to New York where he will address the UN General Assembly on Monday, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said that, in his speech to the forum, he “will deflect all the lies about us, and tell the truth about the heroic soldiers of the IDF, the most moral army in the world.”
Netanyahu’s parting comments follow Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas’s speech at the UN on Friday, in which he accused Israel of “committing genocide in Gaza” and “missing no opportunity to undermine the chance for peace,” while “seeking the continuation and entrenchment of the occupation.”
Netanyahu in his visit to the US looks to confront Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons and Palestinian unilateralism. He will meet with US President Barack Obama in Washington on Wednesday.
The prime minister’s first scheduled engagement on the sidelines of the General Assembly will be with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The meeting will be the first between the two leaders, as well as the first high-profile meeting between an Israeli and Indian prime minister since Ariel Sharon visited New Delhi in 2003.
“India and Israel have expanded cooperation throughout the years and this meeting demonstrates an increase in that cooperation and will also serve as a catalyst for future cooperation,” an Israeli government official said on Sunday.
Sunday’s meeting is being considered a positive turning point in Israeli- Indian relations since Modi was elected prime minister earlier this year.
India’s Congress Party, which Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party ousted in May elections, has often been vociferously critical of Israeli policy vis-a-vis the Palestinians. Most recently the Congress Party decried the IDF’s actions in Operation Protective Edge in the Indian legislature.
However, Israeli-Indian relations have been extensive for years throughout the party’s rule both in security and economic cooperation, if mostly low profile.
Modi, India’s first Hindu-nationalist prime minister in a decade, embraces a strain of politics that maintains India’s culture is essentially Hindu, although the Bharatiya Janata Party says such a culture is welcoming to other religions.
He has said fears that he will favor India’s Hindu majority over its large religious minorities, including some 170 million Muslims, are unfounded.
Reuters contributed to this report.