Indian PM, Jordan king discuss Israeli-Palestinian conflict

PM Modi was received by Jordan Prime Minister Hani Al-Mulki on his arrival in Amman on Friday. (Image tweeted by PMO India)
Updated 10 February 2018
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Indian PM, Jordan king discuss Israeli-Palestinian conflict

AMMAN: Jordan’s King Abdullah II has discussed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and his role as custodian of major Muslim and Christian shrines in contested Jerusalem with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
A palace statement says the two met on Friday, a day before Modi’s first-ever visit to the West Bank.
After a public embrace of Israel as a strategic partner, the Indian prime minister is visiting the Palestinian territories and the Gulf countries on Friday to bolster long-standing political and economic ties.
Modi tweeted on Friday that he is looking forward to talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and “reaffirming our support for the Palestinian people and the development of Palestine.”
His visit comes at a time of tensions over President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. The step angered Palestinians who seek Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem as a future capital.
India was one of the earliest champions of the Palestinian cause but in recent years turned to Israel for high-tech military equipment and anti-terrorism cooperation.
Under Modi, whose nationalist party sees Israel as a natural ally against extremism, ties have flourished. Modi made the first trip to Israel by an Indian prime minister last year followed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to India last month.
But Indian officials said India continued to support the Palestinian cause and that Modi’s visit is aimed at helping build up the Palestinians’ capacity in the health, information technology and education areas.
“We have de-hyphenated our relations with Palestine and Israel and now we see them both as mutually independent and exclusive and as part of this policy the prime minister is undertaking this visit,” B. Bala Bhaskar, a joint secretary in the Indian Foreign Ministry, said.
The two sides are building an Indian-Palestinian technology park in Ramallah, the Palestinians’ seat of government, which will develop IT expertise and generate employment.
Modi arrived in Jordan later on Friday and travels to Ramallah, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, on Saturday. During his visit to Israel last year, he did not travel to the Palestinian headquarters as is usually the case with visiting leaders.
“Looking forward to my discussions with President Mahmoud Abbas and reaffirming our support for the Palestinian people and the development of Palestine,” Modi said in a Twitter post.
India was among more than 120 countries to vote in favor of a resolution in December calling for the US to drop its recent recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
But the scale of India’s security and commercial ties with Israel dwarfs the engagement with the Palestinians. Israel is among India’s top three arms suppliers, doing business worth millions of dollars each year.
Modi and Netanyahu are now pushing for cooperation in agriculture, energy and cybersecurity in addition to defense.
Modi will also travel to the UAE, from where India gets half of its oil, and to Oman, with which India’s navy has built close security ties.
The Gulf is home to 9 million Indians who remit $35 billion home each year, sustaining millions of families. The UAE committed an investment of $75 billion in India when Modi visited in 2015 and the two sides will be looking to advance that goal, the Foreign Ministry said


Christian leaders urge Israeli PM to nix church lands bill

Updated 58 min 12 sec ago
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Christian leaders urge Israeli PM to nix church lands bill

  • Christian leaders are urging Netanyahu to stop a bill that the churches say would allow the state to appropriate land sold to buyers
  • The government’s Ministerial Legislation Committee will reportedly vote on the bill on Sunday

JERUSALEM: Three major Holy Land churches on Friday called on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to block draft legislation they said was aimed at expropriating their property.
In a letter to Netanyahu seen by AFP, heads of the Armenian and Greek Orthodox churches in Jerusalem and a senior Roman Catholic official condemned the bill as “disgraceful.”
They said its inclusion on the agenda of a government committee meeting scheduled for Sunday reneged on previous commitments to withdraw the law.
Swathes of Jerusalem are held by various churches, in many cases under long-term leases from the state.
The churches then sublet the properties on the commercial market.
In February, Jerusalem municipality began enforcing tax collection on church property — excluding places of worship.
Separately, parliament was working on a law that would allow the state to intervene in the resale of leases to commercial property developers.
The religious leaders protested by closing the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the site in Jerusalem where Jesus is believed to have been crucified and buried.
Israeli authorities then froze both the tax measures and the legislation, committing to a dialogue with the churches over the issues.
In their letter Friday, the churchmen said Netanyahu himself had written to them in July giving “assurances to withdraw the legislation.”
“We were astonished to realize that this disgraceful bill was listed on the agenda of the ministerial committee for legislation this coming Sunday,” it said.
“We are therefore compelled to call yet again for Your Excellency’s urgent intervention to stop this bill once and for all.”
The cabinet office listed the bill among several “added to the agenda” of Sunday’s meeting.
Listed as a bill for tenants’ rights, it aims to safeguard residents of properties assigned to “various bodies” on 99-year leases during the 1950s.
The bill’s sponsor, MP Rachel Azaria of the centrist Kulanu party says it was meant to solve the problem of “thousands of Jerusalem residents who could lose their homes due to the demands of developers.”