Hundreds of students protesting India’s engagement with Israel greeted President Pranab Mukherjee at a university in the Palestinian town of Abu Dees on Tuesday, surrounding some cars in his convoy and forcing him to cut his visit short.
Mukherjee left Al-Quds University, 25km from the West Bank city of Ramallah, after an acceptance speech for an honorary doctorate and a reiteration of India’s support to the Palestinian cause, skipping other engagements.
The situation turned tense as students — holding placards that read ‘India, why do you cooperate with occupiers?’ and ‘Indian President, raise your voice against Israel’s aggression’ — also burnt tyres outside the campus.
The President gave the inauguration of a Jawaharlal Nehru School for Boys a miss. The exchange of MoUs between academic institutions of the two countries also happened in his absence.
Mukherjee — accompanied by Palestinian PM Rami Hamdallah — is the first Indian president to visit the region. He arrived hours later in Israel — a country with which India has robust military security ties — where he will spend two nights and address the Knesset (parliament) and meet political leaders.
The President’s trip coincides with an escalation in hostilities between the neighbours following what Palestine claims are restrictions by Israelis on visits by its people to the Al Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem. Seven Israelis and 28 Palestinians, including eight children, have died in almost two weeks of street attacks and security crackdowns.
At Al-Quds, Mukherjee said India believed the Palestine issue was at the heart of the Arab-Israel conflict and peace and stability in the region was in Delhi’s interest. He also recalled that India had voted in favour of a 2003 UN resolution against the construction of a separation wall by Israel and supported subsequent resolutions in this regard
“One of the aims of my visit is to suggest a framework for the future of our relationship. While we continue to follow our traditional policy on Palestine, we see the framework of our partnership can be reinforced through the principal pillars,” he said, identifying these as deeper interaction, economic engagements, academic collaborations, cultural contacts and people-to-people exchanges.