Transcript of Media Briefing by Secretary (East) in Jerusalem on President’s Ongoing Visit to Israel(October 14, 2015)

October 15, 2015

Press Secretary to President (Shri Venu Rajamony): Good afternoon friends. I would like to introduce to you Ambassador Jaideep Sarkar, in case any of you have not met him. He was with us here yesterday evening. Secretary (East) of course needs no introduction. I would request Secretary (East) to brief you on the discussions of the morning.

Secretary (East) (Shri Anil Wadhwa): Dear friends, I think you were there for most part of the morning and afternoon’s functions. Because you were there in the Senate, you have the speeches, who said what etc. So, I am going to brief you essentially on the meeting with President Rivlin. This meeting covered a range of issues, bilateral issues and issues which relate to the international relations etc.

First of all, both Presidents recalled the fact that this is a historic visit, first by a President from India to Israel. Our President recalled his visit to the Holocaust Museum yesterday and he repeated what he said on that occasion yesterday that it was a moving experience to be there; it was quite incredible that human beings can be so outrageous to fellow human beings; decades have passed but nobody can wash away the memory from human civilization of what had happened.

He also said in that context that we cannot allow violence to speak; that the violent may have a louder voice, but it is always the voice of peace and reconciliation which is important. Thereafter, the discussions turned to bilateral cooperation. Here we covered a lot of ground starting from 1992 when Israel and India established fully fledged diplomatic relations.

Thereafter, we came on to specifics like collaboration in defence equipment and platform systems, cooperation relating to agriculture, to irrigation, and the importance of India turning into a manufacturing hub in the future. In order to ensure that 1.2 billion people of India, who actually are one-sixth of the world population but have only one-sixteenth of the land mass in the world, to feed this population it is important to have the technology which is required for this purpose. And Israel has mastered technology in the fields of drip irrigation, also higher yields, seeds etc., in all of which India and Israel are collaborating and that this collaboration needs to intensify in the future.

India also intends to develop its infrastructure by encouraging foreign direct investment from abroad. President said that the Prime Minister of India has already given the call for Make in India and that also takes care of the issue of job creation because 10 million young people join the job market every year, and there is a requirement of skilling about 500,000 people in a decade or so which would make them important for the manufacturing sector. Therefore, all the programmes in India like Clean India, Digital India and Skill India which have been started are all steps in that direction.

He also said that Israel and India are major collaborators in the fields of power, ports and railways. He referred to the fact that FDI liberalization has taken place in many sectors including in defence where 49 per cent is now the equity through the direct route and 100 per cent in many cases. He also invited investments in financial instruments in India; and also the fact that Israel had strengths in IT, in pharmaceuticals and in cyber security where we could collaborate in the future inviting Israeli entrepreneurs to invest in India in these fields.

He also referred to the recent court order of the Vodafone judgment by a High Court pointing out to the fact that India was operating under a rule of law and that even the court which is a government court had given a ruling for a private company against the government in this case.

Finally he referred to collaboration required in the field of telecom and said that the capacity which is required in this sector is growing enormously; we have a growing middle class and the technology from Israel would be important in this respect to set up joint ventures together in many of these fields.

The Israeli side responded by saying that all these remarks have been taken into account and they will all be taken into consideration. The fact that Israel itself had gone down the path of manufacturing way back in 1951 made them a self-reliant nation and he could understand the reasons why India is following a similar policies.

There was also a discussion related to the neighbourhood, the terror groups in the region, Iran, the Russian intervention in Syria, and also the fact that Israel did not want the current upsurge in violence to turn into a religious war, something which we also heard in Palestine, which is a good sign.

Also there was a question about NATO and Russian jets operating at the same time in Syria and how important it was to have some coordination in that respect.

Finally, there was reference to the fact that within Israel as well there are a number of different nationalities which have to live together and therefore it is important that that aspect should be strengthened in Israel itself. There was a brief discussion on that taking the cue from the pluralistic society that we have in India.

Then we had a meeting also with the Leader of Opposition. There the main issues that were discussed were the management of different religions in India where President stressed on the fact that debate, dissension and decision are three essentials of democracy which was how it was important that India had preserved these principles.

There was a discussion on bringing down of poverty in India. Here again discussion turned back to the fact that we have about 10 million persons in the job market every year and still there remains a gap, however, the fact that birth rates in India had also come down and helped a little bit in this regard even as life expectancy has gone up.

There was also an issue which was raised about solving conflicts in our pluralistic and multi-religious society, the Indian experience in this regard, and the fact that religion could not be the basis of any state, and finally a discussion on the path chosen by Pakistan and the current situation which we never actually got down to discussing in detail because that was overtaken by a discussion on a separate law for religions in both India and Israel and the current situation which is similar in both countries. I think that was in brief were the discussions.

Then there were two agreements which were signed which you know about – a cultural exchange programme for 2015-2018 and the amendment to the protocol on Double Taxation Avoidance Agreement. These were the two documents that were signed.

Press Secretary to President: I will just add one small point to what Secretary said. In the meeting with the Leader of Opposition, the President also in response to how India has become a success, how we make India work, he also emphasized the need, the sense of live and let live and the importance of coexistence within the country. In a different part of the discussion he also mentioned that India basically accepts the fact that you can choose your friends but not your neighbours. There are no easy solutions but we need to keep striving for that. Violence cannot achieve anything but violence. And he quoted Gandhiji to say that an eye for an eye will only lead to a world full of blind people.

We will have to take quick questions since we have to rush back for a meeting. Ten minutes maximum for questions, if there are any.

Question: Just a clarification. Who said this that the religion cannot be the basis of a state? Our President?

Secretary (East): Our President.

Question: And what was the response?

Secretary (East): There was no particular discussion on that.

Question: Who did he say this to?

Press Secretary to President: This was in the context of India’s partition and Pakistan, Bangladesh, etc. The question was, how does India work? So the President went into history and spoke about how India was born and the divisions at that period of time.

Question: Does this not contradict Israel’s consistent stand that it is a homeland for Jewish people, that it is a Jewish state based on Jewish religion? So, did President not contradict the very premise of Israel’s existence?

Secretary (East): I will clarify that because I knew that you would ask this question. There is confusion. Yes, the terminology is a Jewish state but we were talking to people who believe in a two-state solution, the Labour Party. And if you take the ruling party, that is not the path they are pursuing right now. So, there is a difference and they were talking about it in that context that when you have coexistence of a number of religions either within the same country or side by side, within the same country is a solution which has been favoured by the ruling coalition, but the Labour parties always had this stand that two-state solution was something that they negotiated on in the past as well. So, the former Foreign Minister was there during the discussions. It was in that context that these discussions took place. Yes, definitely there is that terminology which exists and will continue to exist. But within that, how you take into account the fact that currently in Israel for instance there are 75 per cent of Jews but the rest 20 per cent will be Muslims and five per cent will be others.

Question: Did you get any sense of how the peace process can go forward? Prime Minister has almost clarified and clearly articulated the Israel’s policy on this issue. In the discussions, did you get any sense how the peace process can move forward?

Secretary (East): In the discussions that we had, because these were with the Leader of Opposition and Labour in particular, the way forward as they put it was to have the two-state solution and they also outlined the two most important areas which we know about which is the issue of refugees and the issue of security. How does Israel ensure its own security in the two-state solution, which you all know about that process as we have gone through that process in the past.

Question: Can you …(Inaudible)…

Secretary (East): No, there was no specific discussion on settlements.

Question: In the case of Vodafone court judgment, was concern raised by Israeli side on ...

Secretary (East): No concern was raised. It was a suo motu reference by our President to show that India has a rule of law and that we know the legal system which exists in India takes care of investors, and that climate for investment is improving.

Question: They had no concerns of …(Inaudible)…

Secretary (East): No, they do not.

Question: National Instruments Investment policy, what is the proposal? President asked for investment for national instrument.

Secretary (East): Those are the financial instruments which we have in India. As you know, we have set up a National Investment Fund as well, plus there are a number of government securities that have been floated by Indian Government.

Question: Were there any talks with the Prime Minister?

Secretary (East): No, there were no talks with the Prime Minister. Prime Minister’s speech was there in the Parliament which you know about.

Question: Did he not call on the President?

Press Secretary to President: I think in his speech he briefly mentioned that they exchanged a few words perhaps before the President was ushered in to speak.

Secretary (East): Probably all of them met briefly in the room before they came into the Senate. So, at that time they had a brief discussion.

Question: …(Inaudible)… Pakistan, can you elaborate on that …(Inaudible)…

Secretary (East): No, there was no elaboration.

Question: You said the path chosen by Pakistan.

Secretary (East): That was because our President talked about the fact that within eleven years of the creation of Pakistan, Pakistan chose a path which was military rule and India continued with the democratic system.

Question: On the current path.

Secretary (East): No, we did not get into the current path or the current situation. As I said, the discussion got overtaken by other discussions.

Press Secretary to President: The meeting with the Leader of Opposition was wide ranging and covered a lot of issues. They were very relaxed and had a lot of time. In fact, what the Leader of Opposition said on the floor of the House, he repeated that. His father used to have an Indian Jew, a lady who used to work with him. He had brought her there to meet the President. And the former Foreign Minister in the Government was there who said that she had gone to India and spent a lot of time in Himachal Pradesh. So, it is not just young Jews but she had decided to quit politics for a period and she chose to come and spend time in India. So, it was a very wide ranging discussion.

The discussion started off with this question of how do you make a country as complex as India work and the President went into history and spoke about the history of the Partition, how Pakistan believed that the religion could unite and make a state but India believed differently. All our neighbouring countries fell to military dictatorships but we continued to be a strong democracy and this is because of our sense of live and let live, coexistence and our commitment to democracy in which the three principles of debate, dissent and decision are very important.

Question: …(Inaudible)…convergence of approach of the Israeli Prime Minister and the Indian Prime Minister that he kept referring to on a number of things. How do we see that?

Secretary (East): He talked about a number of areas in his speech which he clearly spelt out. He spelt out four clear areas which are: cooperation in agriculture, in dairy, in solar energy, solar energy being the number one and also in water. These are the four specific areas of cooperation.

Question: Apart from that I am talking about both within the Israeli society and our society and the neighbourhood. …(Inaudible)…

Secretary (East): It is the experience of dealing with pluralistic societies, multi-religious societies. That is where the convergence lies. And also the fact that you face terrorism in your neighbourhood and we live in similar kind of neighbourhood that you can say that we face similar kind of challenges. How does one keep territory secure and how does one keep the country secure? Those are exchange of experiences that can happen.

Question: There were some media comments that President had not referred to the terror on Palestinians when he spoke on two occasions in Palestine and similarly today also there was no reference. Is that correct? …(Inaudible)…

Secretary (East): He has made a clear reference today in his opening statement.

Press Secretary to President: It has been circulated immediately after the Ceremonial …(Inaudible)…

Secretary (East): If you take a look it is there. He also did make a reference in his Senate speech as well.

Question: In his meetings with Israeli President and other leaders, did President Mukherjee specifically refer to by any chance Israel-Palestine conflict, especially the recent upsurge and how to deal with it in his view?

Secretary (East): I think the issue came up for more the Israeli side rather than him raising it because they talked about the fact that they did not want this conflict to escalate or turn into a religious conflict and that they were very conscious of that. That is the response that we got in Palestine as well as you know. As I said, this is a good sign that both sides are thinking along the same lines.

Question: Two quick small questions. One, about the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaking about the Islamists terror across the region. He said that the fight is against Islamist terror and he continuously at least two times he referred to Palestine. I would like to ask you, I interviewed Mahmoud Abbas President of Palestine, he referred again and again that he was not looking towards an Islamic state, he was looking towards a democratic state and a multilateral approach. He said that India has a larger role to play in this entire process of building peace. Would you like to appreciate that statement, any kind of reaction from your end, Sir.

Secretary (East): What President Abbas told you in your interview is something that was also told to the President when he met the political parties in Palestine and repeatedly they said that India can play a major role. In fact, they said that BRICS can play a major role in conflict as well because they understand the situation very well. In fact, two or three speakers referred to a role for BRICS. It is a fact that Palestine is looking at various ways to take the process forward and make sure that the impasse so to speak no longer exists and that there is some headway which is made in the future. I suppose that is one way out that they are looking for. I would think that any solution that can be found or anything that can be done to take the process forward would be good.

Press Secretary to President: Thank you everyone.



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