India pres. ahead of Israel trip: ‘Palestine belongs to Arabs like England belongs to English'

Mukherjee quotes famous words by Gandhi; says India's ties with Israel independent of its relations with 'Palestine.'

Pranab Mukherjee (photo credit: REUTERS)
Pranab Mukherjee
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Even as the current wave of terror rages on, Indian President Pranab Mukherjee is scheduled to travel from Jordan to the Palestinian Authority on Monday, before arriving in Israel the following day for the first ever visit here by an Indian head of state.
This also is the first visit to Jordan by an Indian president.
India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, is expected to visit Israel in the coming months.
Speaking in Amman at the University of Jordan, where he received an honorary doctorate, Mukherjee was quoted by the Press Trust of India as saying Sunday that “India’s traditional support to the Palestinian cause remains steadfast and unwavering while we pursue strong relations with Israel. Our bilateral relations [with Israel] are independent of our relations with Palestine.”
In recent months, New Delhi, which has pursued closer ties with Israel since the election of Narendra Modi in 2014, has abstained – rather than vote against Israel – in three UN votes, leading to concern among some Palestinians that they were losing a reliable ally.
The Indian president seemed intent on dispelling that notion in his address Sunday, quoting from Mahatma Gandhi in saying, “Palestine belongs to the Arabs in the same sense that England belongs to the English and France to the French.”
Gandhi held a negative position toward Zionism, writing in 1938 that, “The cry for a national home for the Jews does not make much appeal to me.”
“India,” Mukherjee said, “supports a negotiated solution resulting in a sovereign, independent, viable and united State of Palestine, with east Jerusalem as its capital, living within secure and recognized borders.”
Mukherjee is scheduled to travel on Monday to Ramallah for meetings with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and other top Palestinian officials.
During his overnight stay in the PA , Mukherjee also is scheduled to be awarded an honorary doctorate from Al Quds University, and to inaugurate the Jawaharlal Nehru Secondary School at Abu Dis, named after India’s first prime minister.
The Indian president is scheduled to begin his formal program in Israel Tuesday afternoon with wreath-laying ceremony at Theodor Herzl’s tomb then a visit to Yad Vashem. In the evening, he’ll host a reception at the King David Hotel for representatives of the Indian Jewish community in Israel.
On Wednesday, he will begin his day with a meeting with President Reuven Rivlin, followed by a speech to the Knesset.
He also is scheduled to meet with Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, Opposition Head Isaac Herzog, and former president Shimon Peres before attending a state dinner in his honor at the President’s Residence.
On Thursday, he will receive an honorary doctorate from Hebrew University, sign an agreement on academic cooperation, and then meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
A visit to the Temple Mount has evidently been scuttled because of security precautions.
Mukherjee’s visit is coming at a time of close cooperation between Israel and India, and is symbolic not only of improved ties, but also the fact that New Dehli no longer feels the need to keep these ties and the bilateral cooperation low-profile and out of the public eye.