Building on the first-ever visit by an Indian prime minister to the Jewish nation, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s six-day trip to India (January 14-19) signals an accelerated transformation and upgrade of India-Israeli partnership. The Israeli leader’s first visit to India will focus on diversifying a defence-focused relationship to a more broad-based partnership, driven by technology and innovation.

In this wide-ranging conversation with Manish Chand, Editor-in-Chief, India and World and India Writes Network, Israel’s Ambassador to India Daniel Carmon maps the way ahead for this crucial partnership in key sectors of agriculture, water, innovation, technology and start-ups. Echoing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s words, the envoy says, “Even the sky is not the limit” for India-Israel relations.   

  1. Q) Looking back and looking ahead, what will be major focus areas that will shape India-Israel relations in months to come?
  2. A) PM Modi’s visit to Israel was really the culmination of this surge in relations that we have been witnessing for the last few years. We have seen more visits during these years. Defence ministers, agriculture ministers, science ministers, home affairs ministers are visiting each other.

The President of India’s visit to Israel was a really big development, but when it comes to the Prime Minister of India visiting Israel, anyone who knows a bit about India-Israel relations says wow, this has happened! This is not only historical, not only unprecedented, not only is it the first time an Indian PM visited Israel. This is a huge message. A message to India and Israel, to the systems, to the governments, to the ministries, to the practitioners, to the businessmen, to the people.

In India they say that this was one of the most important, if not the most important visit, by Prime Minister Modi outside of India during 2017, but in Israel it definitely was the most important visit. It was appreciated and received as such.

Anyone who reads the joint statement can see some very clear messages. First of all, the two countries have elevated their relationship to the level of a strategic partnership. This is something that is to be not only noted and appreciated, but analyzed and understood again; look back at the last 25 years and what does it mean? What is the message to our own people? What is the message to the world? To other countries? The fact that this visit not only received attention from the media in India more than anywhere else, but also in Europe and the US. Do they do that on any other visit that Prime Minister Modi does anywhere in the world? This really was an unprecedented,landmark visit.

  1. Q) Going forward, what areas of bilateral cooperation will see major progress?
  2. A) I would define them as the ones that are already on our joint table and will be upgraded, and the ones that we have not explored yet. We are talking about a process which received a big boost during Indian PM’s visit. For example, it was the first time that a CEOs meet was initiated in which CEOs of very important companies from both sides were represented. They deliberated amongst themselves and signed quite a few MoUs amounting to billions of dollars. They exchanged views on how to do business with each other. They saw the India Innovation Bridge, which was a showcase of eight or nine companies from both sides with solutions to all sorts of challenges. These established companies on both sides committed themselves to a dialogue of CEOs where all sorts of disciplines met. You see defence meeting irrigation. There was one particular company that uses the success story of defence technology, cut and pasted into irrigation. It’s an important forum for engagement and the visit will undoubtedly enhance its activity.

On the social side also, there are more exchanges and activities now. We have so many people from India who are visiting Israel. There is more interest from academia and even NGOs are showing interest in India.

There are specific areas of cooperation like water and agriculture, which will be upgraded. The two MoUs were signed in these areas during PM’s visit. A water project will be operational within a few weeks, bringing more Israeli technologies under a governmental umbrella from both sides.

We have set up a $40 million India-Israel Industrial R&D and Innovation Fund (I4F),which would encourage entrepreneurs and researchers on both sides to collaborate. $40 million for five years is a big thing. For Israel, it’s definitely a big thing!

Another area is agriculture where we are already doing wonders together. The third crucial area would be more engagement in innovation. Innovation Bridge was a good start. Recently, I had a very good conversation with the head of NITI Aayog and his innovation team. It’s called the Innovation Mission, where we explored how to use the visit as a platform for more activities. We have set up a $40 million India-Israel Industrial R&D and Innovation Fund (I4F), which would encourage entrepreneurs and researchers on both sides to collaborate. $40 million for five years is a big thing. For Israel, it’s definitely a big thing!

  1. Q) How will this fund be operationalized?
  2. A) The MoUs have to be ratified in both countries and it takes a bit of time. The idea is not to have the governments work on those, but rather researchers of both countries should decide on a joint research project and then apply for the fund.

There will be a common board, which will have people from both sides, which will invite and analyze the applications. The Department of Science and Technology (DST), from the Indian side, and GITA (Global Innovation and Technology Alliance) and Innovation Authority from Israel will be involved in this process.Israel is among the top countries that allocates a sizeable percentage of its GDP (around 3.9%) to science and technology, R&D, which is more than any other country in the world. It is probably a part of the success story of the science community in Israel.

There are now three plants in India, which are the result of Indian-Israeli collaboration and are part of ‘Make in India.’ These will bring employment, modernization and boost the economy.

  1. Q) Israel is famously called The Start-up Nation. How do you look at prospects of collaboration between Indian and Israeli start-ups?
  2. A) We will see more activities with start-ups. The spirit of the Prime Minister’s visit opens the door for more activities by helping facilitate Indian companies that are scouting for Israeli start-ups and deciding to grow with them, or are looking for technology transfer companies that each university has in Israel. Israel is a supermarket of ideas and innovations. There are various shelves in this supermarket. In a university, you have a R&D center and a technology transfer company that is the touching point between the university and the industry. There are many channels that have been opened in the last few months. We hope that PM Modi’s visit will serve as a catalyst and an accelerator of more collaborations between start-ups in India and Israel.
  3. Q) How do you see Make in India collaboration between India and Israel progressing?
  4. A) I have always stressed that ‘Make in India’ for Israeli companies is not an easy decision to make because we launched our own “Made in Israel” campaign many years ago. For years we have been buying only Israeli products. Now we have changed. We have evolved and we are much more engaged with the European Union. You see more consumer goods and services that come from abroad. Given this history, this is not an easy decision for Israeli companies to move production lines to India. However, we are flexible to be engaged with Make in India. There are now three plants in India, which are the result of Indian-Israeli collaboration and are part of ‘Make in India.’ These will bring employment, modernization and boost the economy. Therefore, you have a product researched and developed in Israel, which is being manufactured in India as a joint venture with Israeli companies.
  5. Q) Can you share a few examples?
  6. A) There is a plant that was inaugurated two months ago in Madhya Pradesh and there is a plant in Gurgaon, which are manufacturing as a joint venture. One more plant will be set up in Hyderabad. This is Make in India.
  7. Q) In practical terms, going forward, how will India-Israel strategic partnership manifest in concrete actions on the ground? We already have extensive defence and counter-terror cooperation.
  8. A) It will be more in the areas in which we already excel. A week before the PM’s visit, there was a resolution by the Israeli government, which set a roadmap and allocated funds amounting to more than almost 300 million shekels for focus areas in India-Israel partnership. The scope of this resolution is unprecedented despite the fact that Israel has adopted 3-4 resolutions like that in the past few years. This is an instrument and a roadmap that the government has given to its ministries in various sectors – finance, agriculture, science and technology, health. We in the government worked pretty hard on it for a few months. The actual activity will be done by the business sector, and here we are not talking about defence. Defense cooperation will be on a separate track.
  9. Q) The setting up of a CEOs forum was an important step, but given the huge potential in the economic arena bilateral trade at $3-4 billion is still way below the potential. Compared to that, Israel-China bilateral trade is around $13 billion. What more can be done to enhance economic relationship?
  10. A) We’ll meet in a year or two and we will see the results of this. We are permanently in the middle of processes. We are still trying to move beyond circumspection and complexes of the past. We didn’t have it right during all those years and the lack of visibility was a part of it. But nowadays, we talk about strategic partnership and we have visits. Now, it will become a routine to see our leaders visiting each other. You see thousands of people from India attending conferences on water technology, agriculture, health, smart mobility and cyber security. The Indian people, government, businessmen, entrepreneurs are visiting Israel like never before because they know that they have this supermarket of innovations there and it’s good to do business with Israel, and the other way around.

We have very limited connectivity– we should have direct flights so that you don’t have to go through Hong Kong or Bangkok. One central part of the visit was to get to know each other better and to deepen this people-to-people connect. Not only did Prime Minister Modi see Israeli capabilities in technology first-hand, but we also had this community event which was so important. The Jewish community or the Israelis of Indian origin are an important bridge between our countries.

To sum up, it’s something very deep that is happening between us and this is the success of the visit. And now when we talk about India today in Israel or about Israel in India, things have dramatically changed and they haven’t changed in a day or two. It’s a culmination of processes. Not only are we celebrating 25 years of diplomatic relations, but something big is happening between us.

  1. Q) Looking ahead, can one expect an acceleration of visits and activities across the spectrum?
  2. A) Across the spectrum – it’s a nice way to put it. Parliamentarians, ministers, businessmen. More cultural exchanges, more connectivity and more tourism. It will now become routine. Earlier, there always was something very dramatic or exceptional in anything that had to do with India and Israel. Going forward, even the sky is not the limit!

Now when we talk about India today in Israel or about Israel in India, things have dramatically changed and they haven’t changed in a day or two. It’s a culmination of processes. Not only are we celebrating 25 years of diplomatic relations, but something big is happening between us.




The comment by Israel’s deputy foreign minister came after Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales announced the relocation of his country’s embassy to Jerusalem. Earlier, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution rejecting the US decision on the status of Jerusalem.The Israeli Foreign Ministry is in touch with “at least 10 countries” from different parts of the world that are mulling over moving their embassies to Jerusalem, following US President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize the city as the Israeli capital, Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely said.

“We are in contact with at least ten countries, some of them in Europe” to discuss the possible move, Hotovely told Reshet Bet radio on Monday, refusing, however, to name those countries.Hotovely also suggested that Trump’s decision on the status of Jerusalem would “trigger a wave” of similar moves. “So far we have only seen the beginning,” she said.

Her comments come in the wake of  Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales’ decision to move his country’s embassy to Jerusalem. On Sunday, he wrote in a Facebook post that he had spoken with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and given instructions to the foreign minister to “initiate the process to make it possible.” In response, Netanyahu praised the move, saying, “God bless you, my friend.”On December 21, the UN General Assembly approved a resolution that rejects Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel after 128 member states voted in favor of the move, however, nine countries voted against the resolution and 35 countries abstained. The resolution condemns both US recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel as well as Washington’s decision to move its embassy to the city.Guatemala was one of  two Central American countries, alongside neighboring Honduras, to vote against the resolution. Channel 10 reported that Honduras is likely to be next to follow the move by Guatemala. According to i24news, other speculations included the Philippines, Romania and South Sudan.On December 6, Trump announced his decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and instructed the US State Department to move the US Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. The decision has resulted in worldwide condemnation.On December 21, Netanyahu said that Israel was negotiating with “several countries” the transfer of their embassies to Jerusalem, but did not name the countries.

Courtesy:Sputnik News




For a gentile, kafir, infidel and pagan, Jerusalem might be another piece of territory as good or as bad as Alaska. This is, however, not true for the followers of the three Abrahamic faiths, and with valid reasons. Their genealogical trajectory is sequential and closely intertwined and some of their key historical moments are traced to the City of Jerusalem. Religion is an article of faith and hence one either accepts all beliefs and traditions or rejects them altogether; and modernity presupposes that no faith is inherently superior to or supersedes the other.

According to Islamic traditions, between 610 and 623 CE, Jerusalem was the direction of prayer or Qibla until it was changed towards the Ka’aba in Mecca by Prophet Mohammed in February 624. The city is also associated with the Prophet’s ascendance to heaven or the Night-Journey and his Ascension on a winged horse traced to 620 CE. Thus, Jerusalem is the third holiest place in Islam after Mecca and Medina.The city is also closely linked to Christianity. While Jesus Christ’s birth is traced to a manger in nearby Bethlehem, the central elements of Christianity are linked to Jerusalem. Believers trace the last thirteen steps of Christ in the old city, and the crucifixion and resurrection, the very core of Christianity, is located in the city where the Church of the Holy Sepulchre stands today.

For the Jews, Jerusalem was the home of their two ancient temples, both being destroyed by invading armies; the first by the Babylonian ruler Nebuchadnezzar II in 586 BCE and the second by the Romans in 70 CE. Hence, Jerusalem is the holiest place for the Jews.Despite all three religions tracing their origins to Abraham, interfaith accommodation over Jerusalem has been limited. Over centuries, Christians have largely diluted and even abandoned their political claims and, until the June War, Jewish claims to the old city and the Western Wall remained dormant. This is, however, not the case for Muslims whose rulers continuously controlled the city since the early seventh century and until 1917, except for the Crusades era.

Holy and Unholy

Regarding theology and historicity, Jerusalem is sacrosanct and intertwined with all the Abrahamic faiths. Politics is, however, a different matter. Even after the Oslo Accords, many Palestinian leaders including Chairman Yasser Arafat had questioned Jewish claims to the city. For a vast majority of Arabs and Muslims, the presence of the Second Temple in the Old City was nothing more than a myth. In their eagerness to reject Israeli claims to that part of Jerusalem, they do not hesitate to reject even Jewish religious claims. This revisionist approach towards Judaism got a boost in October 2016 when UNESCO adopted a resolution that tacitly rejected any Jewish claims to the city. This resolution was repeated twice during 2017.

Recognition of the Jewish claims appears to be so frightening that many Arab and Islamic leaders, scholars and laypersons merely refer to the Christian and Muslim claims and rights to the city and consciously omit the Jewish dimension. Using the present Israeli occupation of Jerusalem as a pretext, even some Indian observers and scholars tend to trace the origin of the city and its religious claims only to the birth of Jesus Christ.

The religious dimension of the city gets complicated if one looks at the evolution of the al-Aqsa mosque within the Walled City. Shortly after his army captured Jerusalem in late 637 CE, Caliph Umar visited the city and offered prayers. The construction of the al-Aqsa mosque began a few years later during the Umayyad period (661-750) and was finalized in 705 CE. The problem lies in its location, namely, upon the ruins of the Second Temple. Thus, al-Aqsa mosque stands atop a pre-Islamic, non-Islamic and unIslamic religious structure. Unfortunately, even scholars on the Middle East rarely flag this central issue of the location of al-Aqsa, lest Islamic claims to Jerusalem become contested and controversial. History can never be revised let alone undone, but a balanced, dispassionate and non-partisan recognition of its trajectory will lessen much of the tension over Jerusalem.Even without the religious dimension, geographically there are multiple Jerusalems, each with a specific timeframe and political baggage.

How many Jerusalems?

Though all the Abrahamic faiths lay claims to Jerusalem, in the modern political context, the city has different geographic contours. Under the partition plan approved by the UN General Assembly on 29 November 1947, Jerusalem and its surrounding areas including Bethlehem were declared corpus separatum. The UN thereby sought to place the city under an international regime due to the shared and contested religious claims over it.

The Declaration of Independence which announced the establishment of Israel hours before the British departure on 14 May 1948 was conspicuously silent on the country’s capital. Formally giving up Zion (another name for Jerusalem) would have meant the realization of Zionism without Zion. At the same time, a formal declaration of Jerusalem as the capital would have angered many Christian or Christian-majority countries, including the US, whose recognition was critical for the Jewish State. With the partition plan already dividing international opinion, the infant state did not have the luxury of ticking off international opinion at its birth. Its entry into the UN, formalized in May 1949, was another compulsion and hence the otherwise colourful and detailed Israeli declaration of independence was silent on the question of its capital.

Meanwhile, the UN-sponsored Armistice Agreement between Israel and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan signed on 3 April 1949 formalized the division of Jerusalem, namely Israeli control of West Jerusalem and Jordanian control and subsequent annexation of East Jerusalem, including the old city and its religious sites holy to all the three Abrahamic faiths. This brought in the concept of West and East Jerusalem into the political discourse of the Middle East. Later that year, Israel declared the Western part of the city as its capital and gradually established or moved all its sovereign institutions, such as the office of the President, the seat of the Supreme Court, Knesset and government offices. By the early 1950s all the ministries except the Ministry of Defence were shifted to West Jerusalem.

West Jerusalem, which Israel declared as its capital has, however, not been recognized by much of the international community. Until President Donald Trump’s sudden announcement, even the US never recognized Israel’s claims to West Jerusalem as its capital. For a while, a few Latin American countries had gone along with Israel but reversed their decision in the wake of Arab political pressure.

Until the June War, East Jerusalem was under Jordanian control and occupation. Their control of the Old City and the third holiest place of Islam was a consolation for the Hashemites who lost Mecca and Medina to the al-Sauds in the 1920s. There were suggestions that the Hashemites were toying with the idea of declaring East Jerusalem as their capital but that they were dissuaded by the British. During this period, a number of Jewish synagogues in the old city were desecrated, damaged or even destroyed and even non-Israeli Jews were prevented from praying in the Western Wall. At the same time, despite international disapproval, the Armistice Agreement of 1949 institutionalized a de facto partition of the city and this status continued until 1967.

During the June War, Israel captured, along with the West Bank, the eastern part of Jerusalem, including the Walled City and since then this has remained under its control. Even as West and East Jerusalems remained high on the international agenda, Israel sought to remove the Green Line (the pre-June armistice lines) on the ground. Through a host of political and legislative moves, it sought to declare Jerusalem to be its ‘united, undivided and eternal capital’. And it also sought to establish this fact on the ground through the construction of settlements beyond the June 1967 border. But the international community, including the US, never recognized the eastern part of the city as a part of Jerusalem or Israeli territory. Thus, East Jerusalem entered the political lexicon of the Middle East after the June War.

Israeli activities since 1967 have led to the introduction of nomenclatures such as Municipal Jerusalem, Greater Jerusalem and Jerusalem security perimeters. Though administrative in nature, they also indicate Israel’s territorial expansion through the annexation and seizure of lands beyond the Green Line. At the height of the Oslo process, the Arab village of Abu Dis in the old city was often suggested as a possible Palestinian capital.

However, the real problem of Jerusalem lay in the Walled City, which houses the ruins of the Western Wall, Holy Sepulchre and al-Aqsa Mosque. Despite its proximity of only a few hundred yards, the Christian holy site can be separated due to it distinct geographical location, but this is not possible for the other two sites. Al-Aqsa and Harem al-Sharif stand on top of the ruins of the Western Wall. Over the years, as noted above, Christian political claims over the city have receded leaving the other two faiths to seek exclusive claims and sovereignty. Besides seeking exclusive control and sovereignty over the Walled City, the Palestinian leadership has no alternate option for Jerusalem.

The Oslo process was possible partly because of the Israeli willingness to discuss contentious issues including Jerusalem during the final status negotiations. But the absence of meaningful progress on the core issues brought the peace process to a halt. At the same time, it is essential to recognize that while other issues are bilateral in character between Israel and Palestine, Jerusalem is special in that not just Arab countries but Muslim societies beyond the Middle East have also acquired a stake and hence a veto in its resolution.

During the Camp David talks between Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in the summer of 2000, President Bill Clinton floated the idea of vertical and horizontal sovereignty over the contested religious space with Jerusalem remaining the shared capital of both the people. This presupposes mutual respect and accommodation, which is absent at present.

Jerusalem is not a legal or political issue. It is an emotional problem that defies reason, logic or evidence. Claims are absolutist with little room for compromise and accommodation. The issue is so vast and complicated one can easily pick up a particular issue, timeframe or logic and make a passionate case for it. As it is said, everyone is right to the extent of their knowledge.

Occupied Jerusalem

There is near unanimity among scholars and laypersons alike that Jerusalem, especially the Walled City, is an occupied territory. But who is the occupying power? It is often forgotten that this has been the case for centuries and that only the occupying powers have been different. Israeli occupation began with the June War of 1967, but the question of ‘occupation’ did not begin then. Until it lost the West Bank to Israel, Jordan had occupied the old city of Jerusalem. During the Arab-Israeli War of 1948, the Arab Legion of the Hashemite Kingdom captured the old city including the holy sites of all the three Abrahamic faiths and subsequently annexed it along with the West Bank. This was not accepted by much of the international community just as it did not recognize Israeli actions beyond the pre-June 1967 borders.

Prior to the Jordanian move, Jerusalem and the wider Palestine came under British control during the First World War after the allied army led by General Edmund Allenby entered the city on 9 December 1917. This was weeks after the Balfour Declaration which expressed British support for a Jewish homeland in Palestine. Until then, Jerusalem was under Islamic control and sovereignty following its liberation from the Crusaders by Saladin in 1187. During the previous two centuries, since the Crusaders laid siege to the city in 1099, Jerusalem was under Christian control.

Before that, Jerusalem came under Arab and Islamic control in the year 637 after the armies of the Second Caliph Umar laid a successful siege and captured the city from the Byzantine Empire. For its part, Byzantium had captured the city from the Early Roman Empire. And, as for the Roman Empire, the armies of Pompey the Great laid siege to Jerusalem in 63 BCE and this eventually culminated in the Jewish tragedy of the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE and their dispersal or Diaspora.

In short, Jerusalem came under Roman rule in 63 BCE; Islamic rule in 637 CE; under the Crusaders in 1099; under Saladin in 1187; under the British in 1917; under the Jordanians in 1948 and under Israel in 1967. Hence, the question of ‘occupation’ is entirely subjective and people decide the timeframe of ‘occupation’ in line with their religious beliefs and political convictions.

Trump and Jerusalem

In October 1995, during the heydays of the Oslo process, the US Congress passed the Jerusalem Embassy Act, which demanded the relocation of the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and to recognize that city as Israel’s capital. However, citing larger American interests, successive presidents deferred the move. At the same time, since 1967, various US administrations have considered areas beyond the Green Line, including East Jerusalem, to be a part of the Occupied Territories. For example, President Barack Obama’s formulation of May 2011 that the final borders between Israel and Palestine “should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swap” was legally correct but led to a diplomatic row with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

On 6 December, much to the surprise of the international community, President Trump announced that he had “determined that it is time to officially recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel” and went on to add that, like other sovereign nations, Israel has the right “to determine its own capital”. He located this move within the context of the peace process.

President Trump’s move, which has enraged many US friends, infuriated Muslim allies and spurred massive protests in different parts of the world, has opened a Pandora’s Box and raised many questions than answers. Does it mean that the US has accepted Israeli claims of Jerusalem being its ‘united and undivided’ capital, including the old city? Is it an abandonment of the American position of East Jerusalem being part of the Occupied Territories? If it means recognition of only West Jerusalem, is President Trump merely accepting the pre-1967 Israeli claims without any rights over the old city? Such questions are especially valid in the context of Trump’s call on “all parties to maintain the status quo at Jerusalem’s holy sites, including Temple Mount, also known as Haram al-Sharif.”

Despite the international uproar, the wording of President Trump’s statement indicates that recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital is accompanied by a subtle reiteration of partition of the city into West and East Jerusalem, which is not the Israeli position. In that sense, there is no need for Netanyahu to celebrate.

India and Jerusalem

Until 1992, India followed a cautious policy of recognition-without-relations towards Israel for over four decades. Like in the case of many other countries, India’s normalization of relations with Israel was followed by the establishment of a diplomatic mission in Tel Aviv. After the establishment of the Palestine National Authority, New Delhi established a mission in the Gaza Strip in 1996, which was moved to Ramallah in 2003 when Arafat shifted his headquarters to the West Bank. The Indian mission in the Palestinian territories reports directly to South Bloc and not to the embassy in Tel Aviv, thus reiterating the legal separation between Israel and Palestine.

For nearly a decade, incidentally coinciding with UPA rule, India’s support for a Palestinian state was accompanied by an explicit reference to East Jerusalem being the Palestinian capital. If the international community and the UN do not recognize West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, the same holds true for East Jerusalem as the Palestinian capital. However, political considerations resulted in a number countries embracing and endorsing the Arab-Islamic position on Jerusalem. This was reflected in multilateral forums such as BRICS and IBSA. During his initial months in office, even Prime Minister Narendra Modi adhered to this position.

However, a major shift became noticeable during the visit of President Mahmoud Abbas in May 2017. With the Palestinian President standing by his side, Prime Minister Modi reiterated India’s support to Palestinian statehood but carefully avoided any direct reference to East Jerusalem. This shift indicated an Indian recognition of the complexities surrounding Jerusalem and the need for a settlement among the parties concerned. Only a few weeks earlier, India had reversed its earlier position and abstained over a UNESCO resolution that denied any Jewish links to the city. Indeed, the absence of any reference to East Jerusalem was also noticeable in the statement that BRICS leaders including Modi issued in Xiamen in September 2017.

The absence of any reference to East Jerusalem as the capital of the future Palestinian state led to suggestions that India was moving towards accepting the city as Israel’s capital. This was flagged when Prime Minister Modi visited Israel in July 2017. While staying at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, he skipped the Palestinian headquarters in Ramallah located only a few miles away.

In the aftermath of President Trump’s Jerusalem announcement, there were media speculations about the Indian stand especially given a non-committal statement issued by the Ministry of External Affairs observing that “India’s position on Palestine is independent and consistent. It is shaped by our views and interests, and not determined by any third country.” This bland statement without any reference to Jerusalem did not, however, satisfy many who felt it was insufficient, vague, anti-Palestinian and even anti-Muslim.

States are less ideological and more responsible than individuals and rhetoric is unsuitable and counterproductive. If one looks at some of its recent positions, it is obvious that the Indian government is aware of the complex religious claims and political contestations over Jerusalem. The city is not Berlin to be divided or Chandigarh to be shared. It is a theological, geographical, historical, archaeological, political and emotional issue with contested claims and overlapping legacies. While it is necessary to simplify the problem, looking for a simple solution is dangerous and irresponsible. From India’s viewpoint, let the parties concerned—Israel, Palestinians and the wider Arab-Islamic world—reach a settlement based on respect, compromise and accommodation. Thus, if India no longer recognizes East Jerusalem as the Palestinian capital, it is also not recognizing West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Is there a better option?

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