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There are many red faces in South Block over a conversation of Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, accidentally relayed through a hot mic, which appeared to suggest that Prime Minister Narendra Modi chose the country as his preferred destination to get technology and, in the process, ignored Palestine.
Audio released by Haaretz, one of Israel’s leading news outlets, revealed that Netanyahu, during a close-door session with leaders from Hungary, the Czech Republic, Poland and Slovakia this week in the Hungarian capital of Budapest, told them: “Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said he needs water for his people. ‘Where will I get it? Ramallah? No’.”
Modi visited Israel from July 4 to 6 and skipped Palestine, departing from a decades-old convention of Indian leaders visiting both countries. Reacting to Netanyahu’s comments on Modi, Palestinian envoy to India, Adnan Abu Alhaijaa, told The Sunday Express, “Our problem is occupation. We, Palestinians, are well-educated, we have good scientists. If we are free, our scientists can develop technology. I hope when Prime Minister Modi visits free Palestine next time, and not occupied Palestine, he will find technology in our country, in water and in agriculture.”
He added that when President Pranab Mukherjee visited Palestine in 2015, India had gifted computers but those were “not allowed to reach Palestine and blocked by Israel”. “Our problem is occupation,” Alhaijaa repeated. Netanyahu’s remarks on Modi were accidentally transmitted to the headphones distributed among reporters, though his aides discovered the transmission and shut it down within a few minutes.
He was making this point while referring to the EU’s insistence on conditioning the EU Association Agreement on certain terms related to the peace process between Israel and Palestine. “The European Union is the only association of countries in the world that conditions the relations with Israel — that produces technology and every area — on political conditions. The only ones! Nobody does it,” Netanyahu said.
“It’s crazy. It’s actually crazy,” he said, “It’s not about my interest. I’m talking about Europe’s interest.” He also drew a comparison with China: “We have a special relationship with China. And they don’t care. They don’t care about the political issues.” There was no official response from the Ministry of External Affairs or Israel’s embassy in Delhi on Netanyahu’s comments. However, a government source told The Sunday Express, “We would not like to comment on the unauthorised and leaked comments of a foreign leader. The Indian government speaks for itself about its reasons to visit a country.”
As the first-ever Indian PM to visit Israel, 25 years after diplomatic relations were established between the two countries, Modi was hailed by the strategic community for de-hyphenating India’s ties with Israel and Palestine. “We have a mission in Ramallah, and we hosted Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in May this year. And if you read the joint statement (between India and Israel), Paragraph 20 said that the two Prime Ministers discussed the developments pertaining to the Israeli-Palestinian Peace Process. They underlined the need for the establishment of a just and durable peace in the region. They reaffirmed their support for an early negotiated solution between the sides based on mutual recognition and security arrangements,” the source said, pointing out that has been no dilution of India’s support to the Palestinian cause.
Netanyahu had accompanied Modi throughout the three-day visit, barring possibly during the Indian PM’s meeting with Israel President Reuven Rivlin and the main Opposition leader, Isaac Herzog. He received Modi at the airport, as well as saw him off.