JERUSALEM (Jan. 29)
India has agreed to upgrade diplomatic relations with Israel to the ambassadorial level.
The announcement was made Wednesday by Israeli Foreign Minister David Levy in Moscow, where he was attending an international conference on Middle East regional issues.
It was announced simultaneously in New Delhi by Indian Foreign Secretary J.N. Dixit, who was quoted as saying that the two countries will open embassies “as soon as physically feasible.”
The news was promptly welcomed in New York by the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. Shoshana Cardin, chairman of the umbrella organization, noted that it came only a week after Israel established full diplomatic ties with China.
“We are gratified that India, the world’s most populous democracy, and Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East, have established formal diplomatic relations,” Cardin said.
Cardin said Indian Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao will meet with the Conference of Presidents this weekend in New York, where he will be attending the U.N. Security Council summit meeting Friday.
India extended de facto recognition to Israel in 1951, when both countries were newly independent. But it refused to establish normal diplomatic ties with the Jewish state.
That policy was attributed to India’s desire not to antagonize its huge Moslem minority. India has also been, for many years, a leader of the bloc of non-aligned nations, which has supported the Arab cause against Israel in world forums.
WAS PART OF A DWINDLING MINORITY
Israel nevertheless maintained a consulate in Bombay, although there was no reciprocal Indian representation in Israel. Relations between the two countries were frigid for decades.
But that never prevented many Indians from coming to Israel to study or visit its scientific and agricultural institutions. India, in turn, became a favorite haunt of Israeli tourists.
According to media reports, Foreign Secretary Dixit denied that the decision to exchange ambassadors with Israel was “linked to anything.”
He said India wanted to encourage the ongoing Middle East peace process but declined to say whether it sought a role in it.
India has found itself recently among the dwindling minority of countries that refuse diplomatic relations with Israel. At the same time, it was prodded by the United States to join the ranks of countries that have changed their policies in favor of normal diplomatic ties with Israel.
They include the former Soviet Union and its successor republics, all the countries of the former Eastern European Communist bloc, and just last week, India’s huge neighbor, China.
Signs of a shift in India’s stance emerged in December, when its representative at the United Nations joined the majority in voting to rescind the General Assembly’s 1975 resolution denigrating Zionism as racism, which it originally supported.