New Delhi: Israel President Reuven Rivlin will visit India from November 15 to 20, accompanied by a delegation of “unprecedented size” comprising businessmen and university officials, sources told The Hindu.
Mr. Rivlin and President Pranab Mukherjee will witness the signing of several agreements with the focus on cooperation in agriculture, water and education, though other agreements on security and defence cooperation were not ruled out.
Mr. Rivlin’s tour, which includes stops in Delhi, Chandigarh and Mumbai, is a return visit to Mr. Mukherjee’s trip to Israel. Both Presidents are expected to travel to Chandigarh together to attend an ‘Agrotech’ summit organised by the Confederation of Indian Industry there and they will be accompanied by chairperson of the Israel-India chamber of commerce Anat Bernstein.
Mr. Rivlin’s visit is expected to pave the way for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit. He will be the first Indian Prime Minister to visit Israel.
Although Mr. Modi announced plans to visit Israel early in his term, Mr. Mukherjee’s visit necessitated that according to protocol, the Israeli head of state would have to visit India before Mr. Modi could go.
In January 2017, India and Israel will mark 25 years of establishment of full diplomatic relations, and Mr. Modi and his Israeli counterpart, Benjamin Netanyahu, are expected to exchange “high-level” interactions during the year. The two leaders had their first bilateral meeting on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in September 2014.
The government is yet to announce Mr. Rivlin’s visit but Mr. Netanyahu said he would travel to India “in the next two weeks” during a Cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on Sunday.
In the run-up to the visit, and the high-level exchanges expected next year, the government has sent out several tacit signals.
At a meeting in Himachal Pradesh on October 18, Mr. Modi likened the Army’s strikes across the LoC as “no less than the Israel Army”, in a complimentary reference to the Israeli Defence Force actions in Palestine and Lebanon that took many by surprise.
A week later, in a dramatic turn, India changed its vote at UNESCO on a pro-Palestine resolution that questioned Israel’s claim and criticised it for excavations inside the walled city. While in April this year, India voted in favour of the motion, in October it changed its vote to an abstention.
A visit to Palestine this week by Minister of State M.J. Akbar for the first ever Joint Commission meeting was also seen as a move to smooth ruffled feathers over both the UNESCO vote as well as the coming visit of the Israeli president.
Diplomats say there will be a flurry of visits by ministers from Delhi and Jerusalem in the next few months. “I think from now and through the 25th year celebrations in 2017, we may see a ministerial visit nearly every month between India and Israel,” said a source privy to the plans, adding, “This is by far the most intense period of engagement between our countries.”