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India refrains from seeking East Jerusalem as capital of Palestine

Anirban Bhaumik, DH News Service, New Delhi, Dec 7 2017, 16:35 IST
A view shows the Israeli barrier as buildings are seen in Kfar Aqab on the outskirts of Jerusalem, near the West Bank City of Ramallah. REUTERS

A view shows the Israeli barrier as buildings are seen in Kfar Aqab on the outskirts of Jerusalem, near the West Bank City of Ramallah. REUTERS

"India's position on Palestine is independent and consistent. It is shaped by our views and interests and not determined by any third country," said Raveesh Kumar, spokesperson of the Ministry of External Affairs.

On Wednesday, US President Donald Trump formally recognised Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and set in motion a plan to shift the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to the holy city.

The US move evoked sharp criticism not only from the Arab world but also from Europe.

India's ambassador to Israel, like the envoys of all other nations, is based in Tel Aviv.

Though some nations maintain consulates in Jerusalem without recognising them as a diplomatic mission to either Israel or Palestine, New Delhi does not have any in the fiercely contested city.

Sources in New Delhi on Thursday indicated that India had no plan to shift its embassy to Jerusalem.

But New Delhi carefully avoided articulating its long-held position that Israel-Palestine conflict should be resolved through negotiation "resulting in sovereign, independent, viable and united State of Palestine, with East Jerusalem as its capital, living within secure and recognised borders, side by side at peace with Israel as endorsed in the Quartet Roadmap and relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions".

During his visit to Ramallah in October 2015, the then President Pranab Mukherjee had reiterated India's "principled support" to Palestinians' demand for East Jerusalem to be the capital of the State of Palestine.

New Delhi's long-held view was last articulated in India's statement presented at a committee of the United Nations General Assembly in New York on December 5, 2016.

India stopped calling for East Jerusalem to be the capital of Palestine this year.

Hosting Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in New Delhi in May, Prime Minister Narendra Modi did call for "a sovereign, independent, united and viable Palestine, co-existing peacefully with Israel", but avoided supporting the demand for East Jerusalem to be the capital of Palestine.

He carefully avoided referring to it during his visit to Israel in July, the first by a Prime Minister of India.

His message on the occasion of International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People on November 25 last or India's statement to UN General Assembly on November 29 last, too, did not refer to the call for East Jerusalem to be the capital of Palestine.

Modi's visit to Tel Aviv and Jerusalem in July substantially de-linked India's relations with Israel and Palestine.

Indian dignitaries visiting Israel in the past had made it a point to visit Palestine too.

Mukherjee had visited both Israel and Palestine. External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, too, had visited Palestine after touring Israel in January 2016, just as one of her predecessors, S M Krishna, had done in October 2012.

India was the first non-Arab country to recognise Palestine way back in 1988.

But New Delhi's growing ties with Israel after the BJP's ascent to power in May 2014 fuelled speculation about India reviewing its position on Palestine.

The Narendra Modi government made it clear that while India would continue to support the cause of Palestine, it would also seek to build stronger ties with Israel.

New Delhi is now set to host Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who is likely to visit India next month.

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