Netanyahu, Abbas may visit India in 2016

India’s relation with the West Asian region is expected to be in focus during the first few months of 2016 as South Block appears set to host top Israeli and Palestinian leaders.

Sushma_swaraj_MEA_PTI_360x270Diplomatic sources told The Hindu on Tuesday that both Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President of Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas, have been invited by India and External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj will hold talks with both Israeli and Palestinian leaders during her January 16 to 19 trip to Israel-Palestine to firm up the dates for the visits.

Diplomatic sources also informed that Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moalem is expected to visit New Delhi soon. The Hindu had earlier reported that Ms. Swaraj and Mr. Moalem had invited each other during their meeting on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly session in New York.

The high power political engagement plan for West Asia by the South Block will be in line with Ms. Swaraj’s May 31 annual press conference when she had announced a first ever visit to Israel by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. A visit by Mr Modi will be symbolically significant as Israel has not been visited by Indian Prime Ministers since both sides established full and normal diplomatic ties in January 1992. Analysts say that a visit by Prime Minister Netanyahu will also be symbolically significant as the last Israeli Prime Minister to visit India was Ariel Sharon in 2003.

Ms. Swaraj had earlier cancelled her January visit plan for Israel due to Israeli election season. Subsequently, President Pranab Mukherjee visited Israel and Palestine in October re-starting the chain of high level engagements. “As a result of President Mukherjee’s visit to Israel, it is now the turn of Israel to reciprocate suitably,” a source told The Hindu.

There is also a possibility that Israel might send President Reuven Rivlin to India later during 2016 as President Mukherjee had extended invitation to President Rivlin to visit Delhi. However, the diplomatic season will be kick-started a few days before Ms. Swaraj’s arrival in Israel by her colleague Agriculture Minister Radha Mohan Singh who will hold discussion with his counterpart for greater Israeli scientific support for meeting Indian agricultural production goals.

Preparation is also on to welcome Ms. Swaraj in Ramallah where her counterpart Riyad Al Maliki has been interacting with Indian diplomats to finalise commercial, educational and regional diplomatic plans for Ms. Swaraj. Ms. Swaraj had earlier told the media that Palestinians had been helpful in getting information about the 39 Indians kidnapped in Iraq.

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