India′s Narendra Modi meets Mahmoud Abbas in West Bank | Middle East| News and analysis of events in the Arab world | DW | 10.02.2018
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India's Narendra Modi meets Mahmoud Abbas in West Bank

Modi and Abbas' first-ever meeting in the West Bank comes as the Palestinian leader seeks to replace the US as the sole mediator between Israelis and Palestinians.

Narendra Modi became India's first prime minister to visit the occupied West Bank where he met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Saturday.

The Palestinian leader said he was counting on India's support for multi-country sponsorship of future Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, which could replace the United States as the sole mediator to the conflict.

New Delhi has long backed the Palestinian quest for nationhood, and Modi has voiced support for an independent Palestinian state existing peacefully alongside Israel.

Following the meeting between the two leaders, Modi pledged $41 million (€33.5 million) for a hospital and three schools in the West Bank, as well as other projects, but stopped short of aiding Abbas' aim on mediation.

"I have once again assured President Abbas that India is bound by a promise to take care of the Palestinian people's interests," Modi. "India hopes that soon Palestine will become a free country in a peaceful manner."

Abbas has rejected Washington's long-standing mediation role in the wake of President Donald Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as the Israeli capital. Trump upended decades of US policy in the region when he announced in December that he would move the US Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

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The Palestinian leader said the United States forfeited its strategic role because any pretense that Washington was an impartial broker in the struggle has evaporated. Palestinians were outraged by the move because they have long sought East Jerusalem, which is occupied by Israel, as their capital.

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Abbas, addressing the media with Modi, said they had discussed "bringing the political process out of the deadlock due to the continued Israeli occupation of our land and the political impasse following Trump's decision on Jerusalem and the refugees."

Trump also announced the US would withhold tens of millions of dollars from the UN agency, known as UNRWA, which provides critical aid to Palestinian refugees, and has threatened to cut off all aid.

"We count on India's role as an international force of great prestige and weight," Abbas said, adding, "its rising power at the strategic and economic levels" could "contribute to the achievement of a just peace in our region."

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Modi's trip to the West Bank was seen, in part, as an attempt to compensate the Palestinians after he hosted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for several days last month — a reflection of warming ties between Israel and India.

The Israeli leader was disappointed India refused to back Trump's announcement on Jerusalem but the move was consistent with New Delhi's support for the Palestinians.

Abbas told journalists that the Palestinians remain open to negotiations but that the US has lost its credibility as an honest broker.

"We never said no to negotiations. We have and will continue to be ready for them," Abbas said. "A multilateral mechanism of several countries is the perfect way to oversee these negotiations."

bik/sms (AP, AFP, dpa)

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