Jerusalem: India`s support for the Palestinians at the UN is a "mistake", a senior Israeli minister has claimed, saying he intends to "persuade" New Delhi to change its stand.
Touching upon a wide range of fields of cooperation between India and Israel, Minister for Energy and Water Resources Uzi Landau also acknowledged differences between the two countries on the issue.
"Let me use this opportunity to also express my concern. I think it is a mistake and I believe one of my challenges will be also to persuade our colleagues in India to believe that this is actually distancing us more from peace than what we think we could have been at," said Landau, who represents ultra-nationalist Yisrael Beteinu party in the government.
"If we were to have governments in the Palestinian Authority (PA) with leaders such as Sadat of Egypt, we would have reached peace and things would have been different. But opposed to this situation Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has signed a series of agreements with us but when it comes to the fulfillment of these agreements, he backs off," he said.
Arguing that the Palestinian Authority`s recent UN bid for recognition is in flagrant violation of agreements between the two sides, he said the acceptance of the same by member states would make peace making even more complicated.
"If this is accepted then what incentive will anyone in this region have to sign agreements with us if they know that when it comes to the minute of compromise they can simply just go to the United Nations," Landau asserted.
"It must be clear to everyone that peace will be reached here following a compromise, negotiations, where each of the sides will have its own part of the deal," he emphasised.
When asked about New Delhi`s assertion that Israel`s settlement activities are a stumbling block in peace making, Landau said that it is an excuse Palestinians have found to avoid negotiations.
"For all those decades we have had with them so many agreements and the settlements were never a problem. Never a problem," he stressed.
"It is something new the Palestinians have found in order to evade the need to negotiate. This is in order to try and find an excuse not to re-negotiate peace," he said.
Accusing Palestinians of racism, the Yisrael Beteinu leader questioned why Jews cannot live in a future Palestinian state when Israel has given full rights to all its minorities.
"This is racism on the part of the Palestinians and on the part of those who really do not want peace. Settlements are not the real issue", he again emphasised.
When asked if Israeli President Shimon Peres` recent backing of India`s permanent membership at the UN Security Council was also the government`s stand, Landau said he would personally back such a move if brought up for discussion.
"President Peres is a highly admired and respected personality in our country. He won the Nobel peace prize for contribution to peace and he brings up his important views, respectable views," Landau said.
"We haven`t deliberated yet on that in the government. My immediate intuitive approach is a very positive one. When it is brought up for the government to decide on it we will take a stand. This is my personal view", he noted.
With Israel and India negotiating on the terms of a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) expected to be signed later this year, which is also the twentieth year of establishment of diplomatic relation, he said that it could help double or even
treble bilateral trade over the next few years.
"Cooperation between India and Israel is spread over a wide spectrum of activities. As minister for energy and water resources, my goal is to give an impetus to increased cooperation in these areas," he said.
"There is a lot of room for cooperation in R&D. We have our own experience and capabilities and through mutual knowhow, we can enrich each other. We have demonstrated some unique developments in the field of desalination of water,
treatment of sewage, efficient use of water for agriculture, especially irrigation technologies", the minister said.
"Whatever capabilities we have developed we will make available to our friends in India and they will decide which one of them will be suitable for their needs and also see what we can borrow from them", Landau added.
Israel will also welcome India`s participation in the ambitious Red-Med project, the construction of the first rail link between its Mediterranean and Red Sea coasts, offering a new Asia-Europe trade route to compete with the Suez Canal.
"We are looking into the Med-Red railway line issue very closely. One of the ways to decide who all will be participating in it is through a call for a tender", he said.
"An Indian infrastructure company can certainly participate in such a process given their expertise", he added.
The so-called proposal for Red-Med train link was unanimously approved by the Israeli cabinet recently and its construction is likely to take about five years from the time of start at a cost of approximately USD 2.3 billion.
Landau will be starting his three day visit to India on Monday meeting officials in Mumbai and Delhi.