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Peace call, forging ties topped Mukherjee’s Middle East agenda

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New Delhi: President Pranab Mukherjee late on Thursday concluded what he said was a a historic maiden visit by an Indian head of state to Jordan, Palestine and Israel, giving a push to bilateral ties, while calling for peace and restraint amid heightened tensions in the region.

In an interaction with the media on board the Air India One on his return, the president said he also sought to send home the point that India’s ties with one country were not linked to another and that this was respected and appreciated by the leaderships of all three countries.

The president, who had a hectic schedule in all three countries, also made a significant point during his interaction with opposition leader Isaac Herzog in Israel. “My point was mere religion cannot be the basis of a state, Mukherjee said.

“For example, a large number of Arab countries practice one religion, but they have not converged into one country. Similarly, Pakistan was formed on the basis of religion, a large chunk has been split into an independent state within 25 years,” the president noted.

During the visits, a section of the media in both Palestine and Israel was critical of the Indian president’s visit to the other country, especially at this juncture when cases of stabbing by the Jewish and Arab communities are being reported almost on a daily basis, especially in Jerusalem.

But the president brushed aside such conjectures.

“In Palestine, President Mahmoud Abbas appreciated our support and he thanked me profusely for staying overnight in Ramallah — being the first head of state from any country to do so. He respectfully described us as ‘brothers’ and not just friends,” the Indian president said.

“Twenty-three years ago, we established full-fledged diplomatic relationship with Israel. We are mainiaining our stated principled position with Palestine. Therefore, this is the job which the government of India is doing for more than two-and-a-half decades.”

Earlier, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had also called Mukherjee’s visit significant. “This is historic — the first by an Indian head of state. We welcome you to the only democracy in the Middle East. Our two countries have stayed as examples for democracies for seven decades.”

The visit also saw the top three universities in each of the three countries – the University of Jordan, the Al-Quds University in Palestine and Hebrew University – confer honorary doctorates on Mukherjee, besides the signing of a host of agreements ranging from education to technology.

He also met expatriate Indians in both Jordan and Israel, where they number around 10,000 each.

Another significant outcome was the inauguration of a $860-million Indo-Jordanian fertilizer unit with King Abdullah II ibn Al Hussain that will produce and export to India 4,500 million tonnes of sulphuric acid and 1,500 million tonnes of phosphoric acid annually, besides other nutrients.

This apart, the president also got the opportunity to address lawmakers in both Jordan and Israel — the Majlis al-Umma and the Knesset, respectively.

The thrust of the visit was on ensuring peace in the region.

“In public meetings, I expressed distress at recent incidents of violence and condemned all forms of terrorism and called for peaceful resolution of all disputes,” the president said, adding none of the leaderships desired that such incidents erupt into a religious war.

(IANS)

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Claiming Bias, U.S.A. And Israel Pull Out Of UNESCO

The U.S. could potentially seek that status during UNESCO Executive Board meetings in April.

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The logo of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) is seen druing a conference at UNESCO headquarters in Paris, France, Nov. 4, 2017. VOA

The United States and Israel officially quit of the U.N.’s educational, scientific and cultural agency at the stroke of midnight, the culmination of a process triggered more than a year ago amid concerns that the organization fosters anti-Israel bias.

The withdrawal is mainly procedural yet serves a new blow to UNESCO, co-founded by the U.S. after World War II to foster peace.

The Trump administration filed its notice to withdraw in October 2017 and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu followed suit.

The Paris-based organization has been denounced by its critics as a crucible for anti-Israel bias: blasted for criticizing Israel’s occupation of East Jerusalem, naming ancient Jewish sites as Palestinian heritage sites and granting full membership to Palestine in 2011.

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UN Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation. Image Source: www.mid-day.com

The U.S. has demanded “fundamental reform” in the agency that is best known for its World Heritage program to protect cultural sites and traditions. UNESCO also works to improve education for girls, promote understanding of the Holocaust’s horrors, and to defend media freedom.

The withdrawals will not greatly impact UNESCO financially, since it has been dealing with a funding slash ever since 2011 when both Israel and the U.S. stopped paying dues after Palestine was voted in as a member state. Since then officials estimate that the U.S. — which accounted for around 22 percent of the total budget — has accrued $600 million in unpaid dues, which was one of the reasons for President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw. Israel owes an estimated $10 million.

UNESCO Director General Audrey Azoulay took up her post just after Trump announced the pullout. Azoulay, who has Jewish and Moroccan heritage, has presided over the launch of a Holocaust education website and the U.N.’s first educational guidelines on fighting anti-Semitism — initiatives that might be seen as responding to U.S. and Israeli concerns.

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Migrants wait in line for food at a camp housing hundreds of people who arrived at the U.S. border from Central America with the intention of applying for asylum in the U.S., in Tijuana, Mexico, Dec. 12, 2018. VOA

Officials say that many of the reasons the U.S. cited for withdrawal do not apply anymore, noting that since then, all 12 texts on the Middle East passed at UNESCO have been consensual among Israel and Arab member states.

In April of this year, Israel’s ambassador to UNESCO said the mood was “like a wedding” after member nations signed off on a rare compromise resolution on “Occupied Palestine,” and UNESCO diplomats hailed a possible breakthrough on longstanding Israeli-Arab tensions.

The document was still quite critical of Israel, however, and the efforts weren’t enough to encourage the U.S. and Israel to reconsider their decision to quit.

In recent years, Israel has been infuriated by repeated resolutions that ignore and diminish its historical connection to the Holy Land and that have named ancient Jewish sites as Palestinian heritage sites.

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Israel Flag, Pixabay

The State Department couldn’t comment because of the U.S. government shutdown. Earlier, the department told UNESCO officials the U.S. intends to stay engaged at UNESCO as a non-member “observer state” on “non-politicized” issues, including the protection of World Heritage sites, advocating for press freedoms and promoting scientific collaboration and education.

Also Read: Israel Unanimously Approves Medical Marijuana Exports

The U.S. could potentially seek that status during UNESCO Executive Board meetings in April.

The United States has pulled out of UNESCO before. The Reagan administration did so in 1984 because it viewed the agency as mismanaged, corrupt and used to advance Soviet interests. The U.S. rejoined in 2003. (VOA)