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Why Rashtrapati's Israel visit goes beyond politics

By Ambassador Ido Aharoni
October 13, 2015 12:06 IST
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President Pranab Mukherjee's visit to Israel is a final and critical step in the normalisation of relations between the two countries, says Ambassador Ido Aharoni.

On October 13, for the first time in history, President Pranab Mukherjee will conduct a State visit to Israel.

The President will travel to Jerusalem, Israel's capital, where a State dinner will be hosted in his honour by his Israeli counterpart, President Reuven Rivlin.

He will also hold talks with President Rivlin and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and deliver an address at a special plenary meeting of the Knesset, Israel's parliament.

Finally, President Mukherjee will conclude his visit with a ceremony at Jerusalem's Hebrew University, where he will receive an honorary doctorate -- marking the ongoing academic cooperation between the two countries.

This historic visit is the culmination of over two decades of steady evolution of the Indo-Israel partnership. Since Israel and India established full diplomatic relations in 1992, we have done incredible things together.

We have established an agricultural cooperation programme -- the Joint Working Plan -- for the construction of over 30 agricultural centres of excellence across India, in which Israeli agricultural technology and know-how are being adopted and implemented by the Indian Kisan. Around half of these centres are already up and running today.

In the field of water management, Israeli experts have established major desalination plants on India's coasts (one quarter of Israel's drinking water comes from desalination) and will participate in the rehabilitation of the holy Ganga.

Israeli and Indian defence experts work together to identify joint threats, design high-end solutions to face them and operationalise highly advanced systems which keep our two democracies safe from tyranny and terrorism.

Trade between the two countries has grown from $20 million (over Rs 129 crore/Rs 1.29 billion) in 1992 to over $5 billion (nearly Rs 32,385 crore/Rs 323.85 billion) last year.

Moreover, Indian and Israeli scientists cooperate in fields such as pharmaceuticals, biotechnology, renewable energy and much more.

And yet, the relationship between Israel in India is not merely a practical partnership between the governments of nation-states. It is a relationship between two ancient civilisations which have both bequeathed to humanity some of its more important cultural and spiritual legacies.

It is a bond of shared values and complementary cultures.

India and Israel are both beacons of democracy in their respective regions, each facing a sea of despotism and religious intolerance.

Diversity, debate and creative energy are the life-blood of both our nations.

Indian culture has had a major impact on Israel and interest in Israeli and Jewish heritage is steadily growing in India.

It is remarkable to note that India is one of very few countries where Jews have lived for generations and still live today completely safe and free of the persecution and discrimination suffered by their brethren in other countries.

While we eagerly await the visit to Israel by Prime Minister Narendra Modi as well, the visit of the Rashtrapati is of particular importance.

Due to the President's position above political dispute and due to Mr Mukherjee's personal stature as an elder statesman of India and as a figure admired and respected across the political spectrum, his undertaking this visit sends the crucial message that Indo-Israel relations are above party politics.

It is a final and critical step in the normalisation of relations between the two countries.

Even as we draw satisfaction from the progress our relationship has made hereto, there is still so much more we could do together.

Though it has encountered difficulties and setbacks, we are still committed to completing a Free Trade Agreement which would increase the volume of bilateral trade up to three-fold.

The platforms for joint R&D and academic basic research should be expanded to encompass more institutions and new disciplines and fields of technology.

Israel and India can and should renew their robust cooperation in the field of satellites and space exploration.

Not least, Israel which is one of the world's lead players in cyber security (attracting 10 percent of all global investments in cyber security in the passing year) shares with India some important strategic challenges in this field and the two countries can and should work together to secure their knowledge economics from hostile activities.

I believe the Jewish and Indian Diaspora communities residing in the US can play a meaningful role in the building of this relationship. As we move further and further away from the Cold War and the outdated strategic alignments that underpinned it, we see increasing convergence in the orientation and interests of the US, Israel and India.

Moreover, these three countries are widely recognised as global hubs of innovation and entrepreneurship.

Both India and Israel have thriving prosperous and highly-respected Diaspora communities in the US.

Even as these communities each work for their development and well-being on the American soil, it would be only natural and most welcome for these communities to nurture a closer relationship, reflecting and enhancing the burgeoning friendship between the Jewish and the Indian homelands.

Ambassador Ido Aharoni is Israel's Consul General in New York.

IMAGE: Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu greets India's External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj in New York as Prime Minister Narendra Modi looks on, September 28, 2014. Photograph: Press Information Bureau

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