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Netanyahu’s ‘bride-like’ rush to visit India

Timing tied to eagerness for photo-op with Modi ahead of repeat polls
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gestures during the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem, Sunday, July 7, 2019.

PTI   |   Jerusalem   |   Published 09.07.19, 02:10 AM

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who failed to form a coalition after the April polls, plans to visit India ahead of repeat elections in September, hoping that a photo-op with his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi will boost his campaign, according to an opinion piece in an Israeli daily.

Israeli lawmakers in May voted 74-45 in favour of dissolving the 21st Knesset (Parliament) and holding an unprecedented repeat general elections on September 17 after Netanyahu failed to form a coalition government.

In an opinion piece titled “Netanyahu’s Out of Luck, but He’s Hoping a Photo-op With India's Modi Will Help”, Ha’aretz columnist Yossi Verter contended that Netanyahu “enlisted” three heads of the world and regional powers to help boost his campaign before the April 9 elections.

“Heading the group was the buddy, Donald Trump. In the most transparent manner, from on high, the White House organised a palsy-walsy visit for Netanyahu, whose highlight was when the President signed a document recognising Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights. That was… Trump’s modest contribution,” Verter wrote.

“Pleased as punch, Netanyahu returned to Israel, and on April 1, the President of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro, arrived for a visit. Then, a week before Election Day, Netanyahu flew off to Moscow, where President Vladimir Putin organised a spectacular, Hollywood-style ceremony in his honour, marking the discovery of the remains of long-missing Israeli soldier Zachary Baumel,” he added.

However, after the Knesset was disbanded and the country hurtled into another election campaign, Verter said that “the Prime Minister’s Bureau dusted off the globe. Where haven’t we visited, who haven’t we met with?

“Only great powers do it for him. And only two haven’t yet had the privilege of offering Netanyahu photo-ops for an election campaign: China and India”.

Verter added: “Netanyahu, who’s fighting for his personal survival ahead of a hearing before the state prosecution on several cases, must find a way to bounce back.”

He said China was not an option as it is a “tough country, with clear rules”.

In view of all this, the Prime Minister’s office in Jerusalem is said to have reached out to their counterparts in New Delhi and requested for an invitation.

“Prime Minister Modi is a true friend. A friend indeed for a friend in need. The Indians checked their diary and got back to the Israelis with a suggestion for an August visit. Not happening, came the answer — but we’d be happy to come in the first week of September (about 10 days before the election). It’s a good bet that Modi and his aides know why the bride’s in a rush to go under the chuppah (a canopy beneath which Jewish marriage ceremonies are performed), but what are friends for?” the columnist wrote.

Netanyahu will land, meet, have his picture taken, market the visit as “very important” for Israel’s security and economic interests, complain that the Left-leaning media ignored the trip and upload something to Facebook, the journalist wrote.

Sources told PTI that a day for Netanyahu’s trip to New Delhi is indeed being worked out and the Indian PMO had suggested the week of August 25 for the visit.

The Israeli side prefers a September visit which would be closer to the general election, they said.

The first request for an invitation for Netanyahu was made in January during the visit of Israeli national security adviser Meir Ben-Sabbath to India. The two leaders were scheduled to meet on February 11 before the elections in Israel but Netanyahu called off his trip to New Delhi because of other engagements.

The efforts linked to the visit were renewed after the Israeli parliament was dissolved and fresh elections were announced.

Netanyahu visited India in January 2018 while Modi travelled to Tel Aviv in 2017, becoming the first Indian Prime Minister to tour the Jewish state, where Netanyahu received him at the airport.

Opinion polls carried out by Channel 12 and 13 last week showed that Netanyahu’s ruling Likud-led Right bloc will fall short of the 61-mark by four to five seats, which would mean that he would again require support of his one-time close confidante Avigdor Lieberman. 

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