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Netanyahu offers friendship to those ignoring Palestinians

The visits this week to Israel of India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame reflect Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s inclination to reinforce ties with countries that ignore Palestinian suffering.

Upon his arrival in Israel on July 4, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was accorded an honor generally reserved for American presidents; Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed him in person the moment he set foot on Israeli soil and did not leave Modi's side until he boarded his plane — and for a good reason. Unlike US President Donald Trump and most leaders visiting Jerusalem, Modi did not take the opportunity to hop over to the neighboring city of Ramallah, headquarters of the Palestinian Authority, in the West Bank. It is unusual, to say the least, for such VIPs visiting Israel to identify so fully with Netanyahu’s disregard for the Palestinian neighbors living for half a century under Israeli domination. Israel need not worry that the Indian Foreign Ministry will condemn the Netanyahu government’s harassment of human rights organizations, as the German Foreign Ministry did last month.

Standing beside his guest at Ben-Gurion Airport, Netanyahu said Modi’s visit would deepen bilateral cooperation on issues of security, agriculture, water and energy. One other area — peacemaking — did not even rate the type of lip service customary on such occasions. Why spoil a festive visit with such pesky trifles? Let's enjoy celebrating the 25th anniversary of full diplomatic relations between the world’s biggest democracy and a small state that boasts about being “the only democracy in the Middle East.”

Two events paved the way for the historic change in Israel’s ties with India, as with several other important states, foremost among them Russia, China, Japan and South Korea. The first breakthrough occurred at the international Middle East peace conference convened in Madrid in October 1991, attended by high-ranking delegations from Israel, the leadership of the PLO and Arab states. The second event was the signing of the Oslo Accord between Israel and the Palestinians two years later, in September 1993. The “peace process” that was meant to free the Palestinian people of Israel’s occupation and to shut down the Israeli settlement enterprise in the West Bank only resulted in freeing foreign states from the primary and secondary boycott imposed on them by the Arab League for trading with Israel. The ensuing Israeli-Palestinian negotiations did not hasten the end of the occupation, nor did it slow the pace of settlement construction. But even though the peace process came to a halt after the Oslo Accord and settlements were — and are — still being constructed, the Israeli embassies in New Delhi, Moscow, Beijing and Seoul remained open.

These embassies were soon staffed by military and economic attaches. At the same time, arms dealers and counterterrorism experts popped up like mushrooms after the rain. India became the biggest client of Israel’s Military Industries, with a shopping list that included missiles, drones and cyberwarfare technologies, to name a few. In light of these developments, one has to wonder what Netanyahu meant when he spoke at the reception for Modi of “our common quest to provide a better future for our peoples and for our world.” Does the quest for perpetuating the Israeli apartheid regime in the Palestinian territories ensure a better future for the people of Israel? How does a huge contribution to the arms race between two hostile nuclear powers — India and Pakistan — benefit the future of humanity?

Modi responded in a similar vein, saying that the partnership between the two countries is based on democratic principles. Modi seems not to have heard of the systematic, ongoing violation of Palestinian human rights by Israel and the abuse of organizations dedicated to protecting those rights. He doesn’t know about Netanyahu’s incitement against minorities and the use of excessive force against civilians. Indeed, India is a huge country facing many challenges, but it is hard to believe Modi is unaware of the latest US State Department report on human rights practices around the world in 2016. The chapter devoted to India says “the most significant human rights problems involved instances of police and security forces abuses, including extrajudicial killings, torture and rape; corruption, which remained widespread. …” The report indicates that Netanyahu could learn a thing or two from Modi about ways to ban foreign state donations to civil society organizations, which according to both of them damage the public interest.

The next high-ranking visitor due in Israel, Rwandan President Paul Kagame, who arrives July 8, could teach Netanyahu more than a thing or two about suppressing human rights and democracy. With a grim history of wars and a later work of ethnic reconciliation, still, Kagame too was honored with a grim chapter in the US report. Also, his military provides gainful employment for Israel’s defense industries and experts. Kagame was re-elected in 2010 with 93% of the vote, but the three opposition parties were not allowed to participate in the elections. Two of their leaders were thrown in jail and the third was detained and later went into exile, while his deputy was assassinated. Several journalists were kidnapped, and Scotland Yard warned two Rwandan civilians residing in Britain that the Rwandan government “poses an imminent threat to your life." Israel nonetheless trains Kagame’s people and even boasts of doing so. In a video clip posted in April on its Facebook page, the Israel Border Police is shown training Rwandan police in fighting techniques, targeted shooting, fast weapons discharge and making arrests, among other things.

So who says half a century of occupying another people isolates Israel in the international arena? Israel’s comrades in arms are multiplying — from India to Africa — joining Israel’s veteran conservative friends on Capitol Hill. They all ostensibly prove that there is no foundation for the criticism of the government’s foreign policy. Netanyahu is successful in convincing Israelis that Israel can manage quite well without the friends of the Palestinians in the West. The emerging states of Asia and the fractious African continent are slowly taking the place reserved in the hearts of Israelis for Europe.

How long will this work? Until the friends in Paris, Berlin and Madrid decide to change their priorities: start with a photo-op with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah and then, if time permits, pop over to Jerusalem to ask Netanyahu how goes his “quest for a better future for our peoples and the world.”

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