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Last Updated: Monday, 8 September, 2003, 17:16 GMT 18:16 UK
Press spotlight on Sharon's India visit
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon
Mr Sharon is the first Israeli premier to visit India

The visit to India by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, the first ever by an Israeli premier, is attracting much comment in newspapers in both countries.

While Indian editorial writers are divided about the correctness of New Delhi hosting what many see as an Israeli politician with a highly controversial record, papers from opposite ends of the Israeli political spectrum stress the importance of improving ties with India.

But there is agreement among commentators in both India and Israel that the similarities in the two countries' strategic and security concerns - particularly the threat from Islamist militancy - is driving them ever closer.

Indians polarised

The leading Hindi-language daily Navbharat Times notes that Mr Sharon is "remarkable" for his ability to create controversy "not only in India but in other countries as well".

"His past," it says, "is linked with the brutal killings of more than 2,000 Palestinians in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps... Sharon's opponents compare him with Hitler."

Cementing geo-political and trade links with Israel need in no way weaken New Delhi's traditional insistence that Palestinians be ceded control of their territories
The Indian Express

But this, it argues, cannot justify demonstrations planned in protest against his visit by some Indian opposition parties "because he is coming as the prime minister of Israel, which is an important friend of India".

Discussing India's growing ties with Israel in agriculture, defence and information technology, the paper says that "instead of giving importance to Sharon's personal image, we must concentrate on this extensive relationship".

The Indian Express agrees. It notes that the issue of India's relations with Israel "instantly polarises hard-nosed pragmatists from dewy-eyed idealists".

"This is regrettable," the paper believes, "for cementing geo-political and trade links with Israel need in no way weaken New Delhi's traditional insistence that Palestinians be ceded control of their territories."

New Delhi criticised

But some Indian papers fear that by strengthening ties with Tel Aviv, India is diluting its traditional support for the Palestinians and other oppressed peoples.

"A token visit by Palestinian Foreign Minister Nabil Sha'ath before the Sharon visit was the only concession New Delhi made to indicate that it is still concerned about the plight of the Palestinians," The Times of India says.

Sharon's visit is a negation of the principles that Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru propounded - favouring the cause of the oppressed

The weekly magazine Outlook makes a similar point about India's changing priorities.

"There's no denying that Sharon's visit is yet another defining moment in India's pragmatic tilt in foreign policy that includes, among other things... cosying up to the Myanmarese [Burmese] junta and conceding Chinese hegemony over Tibet with astonishing explicitness.

"In the popular perception," it continues, "the problem of terrorism - despite the sharp differences in its nature as it exists in India and Israel - inspires many to see a convergence of interests between the two countries."

Hyderabad's Urdu-language daily Siasat also believes that Mr Sharon's visit marks "a major shift in India's foreign policy".

"India had always endorsed the cause of the Arabs and the poor countries and, without any fear, protested against all forms of oppression and aggression," it says.

"It is now favours Israel, which is well-known for its aggressive and fascist inclinations... Sharon's visit is a negation of the principles that Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru propounded - favouring the cause of the oppressed - and on the basis of which India fought the forces of tyranny."

The Indo-Israeli relationship is now coming to full bloom and turning India into one of Israel's main allies
The Jerusalem Post

The paper believes that India's aim is to improve relations with the United States by "inviting its adopted child and extending him [Sharon] a red carpet welcome".

View from Israel

According to the conservative Jerusalem Post, the Indo-Israeli relationship is "now coming to full bloom" and "turning India into one of Israel's main allies".

It argues that securing relations with an "emerging power" is important because it proves Israel "can make friends other than America and Micronesia in this unfriendly world".

The paper also sees similarities and shared interests between the two nations: "Both countries boast ancient cultures and vibrant democracies. There has long been a minuscule Jewish presence in India, happily encountering no anti-Semitism. Finally, both countries face the ongoing threat from fanatic Muslim fundamentalism."

Making a similar case, the liberal Ha'aretz goes further to argue that India's improved relationship with Washington has encouraged it "to think in terms of a triangular alliance in which India and Israel would act as cushions providing stability in the tumultuous South Asia-Middle East regions, areas that face threats posed by terror, and by dictatorial regimes of Arab, Muslim states".

While being optimistic about the future of Indo-Israeli relations, the paper calls on New Delhi to "translate its openness towards Israel into changes in its voting pattern at the United Nations: up to now, India has automatically cast its ballots with the pro-Arab majority."

BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.

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