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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 September 2018

Abbas tells Modi he is counting on India support for future peace talks

Modi's visit to Ramallah on Saturday was the first by an Indian prime minister to the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

Indian prime minister Narendra Modi is greeted by Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas upon his arrival in the West Bank City of Ramallah on February 10, 2018. Alaa Badarneh / EPA
Indian prime minister Narendra Modi is greeted by Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas upon his arrival in the West Bank City of Ramallah on February 10, 2018. Alaa Badarneh / EPA

Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas told visiting Indian prime minister Narendra Modi on Saturday that he is counting on New Delhi's support for a multi-country sponsorship of any future Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.

Such a framework would ostensibly replace Washington's long-standing monopoly as mediator — a role Mr Abbas rejected when president Donald Trump recognised Jerusalem as Israel's capital in December.

Mr Abbas has appealed to the international community, including countries in Europe and the Arab world, to demand a say in future negotiations, but has so far failed to secure commitments.

European leaders have criticised Mr Trump's dramatic policy shift on Jerusalem, but appear unwilling to confront Washington over its handling of more than two decades of failed efforts to broker an Israeli-Palestinian partition deal.

Mr Modi's visit to Ramallah on Saturday was the first by an Indian prime minister to the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

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The Indian leader pledged $41 million for a hospital, three schools and other projects in the West Bank. He said India remains "committed to Palestinian national rights", but stopped short of offering support for Mr Abbas' political agenda.

Mr Modi's visit to the West Bank was seen, in part, as an attempt to compensate the Palestinians after he hosted Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu for six days last month, in a reflection of warming ties between Israel and India.

The Indian prime minister flew to Ramallah from Jordan by helicopter on Saturday and laid a wreath at the grave of Mr Abbas's predecessor, Yasser Arafat, which is located in the Palestinian president's walled government compound. Mr Modi then toured the Arafat museum, which is also part of the compound, before holding talks with Mr Abbas.

After their meeting, Mr Abbas said he remains committed to negotiations with Israel as the path toward Palestinian independence. No meaningful talks on Palestinian statehood through a partition deal have been held for almost a decade.

"We never have and never will reject negotiations," said Mr Abbas. "We consider a multilateral mechanism that emerges from an international peace conference as the ideal way to sponsor the negotiations."

"Here we count on India, with its status as a great power, its historical role in the non-aligned movement and in international forums … to achieve a just peace," the president said.

Israel staunchly opposes any international framework for negotiations, arguing that only the US can be a fair broker. But the Palestinians have criticised Mr Trump's shift on Jerusalem as a sign of blatant pro-Israel bias by Washington.

Mr Modi told Mr Abbas that "support for the Palestinian cause has been one of the mainstays of our foreign policy" and that he hopes a Palestinian state will be established through peaceful means.

The Indian prime minister headed to the UAE after his West Bank visit.

Mr Abbas is scheduled to meet on Monday with Russian president Vladimir Putin in the Black Sea town of Sochi.

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