Biennial exercise:S. Jaishankar with the IAF contingent at the Ovda airbase in Israel on Tuesday.PTI
India, Israel, the United Arab Emirates and the United States have decided to launch a new quadrilateral economic forum, as External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar joined his counterparts at a videoconference from Jerusalem, where he is on a five-day visit.
The quadrilateral, which followed his bilateral meeting with Israeli Alternate Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, builds on ongoing cooperation between the U.S., Israel and the UAE after the Abraham Accords last year, and the India, Israel and UAE cooperation that was launched since.
Mr. Jaishankar said it was a fruitful first meeting with Mr. Lapid, UAE Minister of Foreign Affairs Sheikh Abdullah Bin Zayed and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, “on economic growth and global issues”.
In an interesting aside, Mr. Jaishankar’s travel to Israel is also routed via the UAE, on flights that started as a consequence of the Abraham Accords and the opening of diplomatic missions and flights between them.
Mr. Lapid added that the grouping had decided to establish an international forum for economic cooperation, and specifically discussed “possibilities for joint infrastructure projects”.
The U.S. State Department said that during the meeting on Monday, the four Ministers discussed “expanding economic and political cooperation in the Middle East and Asia, including through trade, combating climate change, energy cooperation, and increasing maritime security,” as well as ways to counter the COVID-19 pandemic.
Foreign Ministers of the U.S., Israel and the UAE had met in Washington on October 13 to discuss modalities of trilateral cooperation, and set up two working groups: on religious coexistence and the other on water and energy.
Business groups in India, the UAE and Israel have also been in talks for trilateral cooperation since diplomatic ties were established, and the International Federation of Indo-Israel Chambers of Commerce (IFIIC) has predicted that the potential for agreements backed by Israeli innovation, UAE funding and Indian manufacturing, given India’s close ties and strategic partnership with the two other countries could cross $100 billion by 2030. In the first such venture, a UAE project for robotic solar panel cleaning technology was signed by Israeli company Ecoppia that has a manufacturing base in India.
Significantly, neither the quadrilateral meeting, nor the trilateral meeting discussed the issue of Palestine and resuming the “Middle East peace process”, although the Joe Biden administration has expressed support for a “two-state solution”, that is in line with India’s broader position.
On Monday, Mr. Jaishankar and Mr. Lapid held bilateral talks, agreeing to resume long-pending negotiations for a free trade agreement, a mutual recognition agreement for COVID-19 vaccine certificates, beginning with Israeli acceptance of Indian travellers vaccinated with Covishield, and Israel’s joining the International Solar Alliance.