Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli of Nepal and his Israeli counterpart Benjamin Netanyahu greeted each other on Monday as both sides marked the 60th anniversary of formal establishment of diplomatic ties.
Nepal was the first South Asian country to establish diplomatic relations with the Jewish State on June 1, 1960 and Prime Minister Bishweshwar Prasad Koirala was the first elected South Asian leader to be hosted by Israel’s founding leader David Ben Gurion in 1960.
“The two Prime Ministers expressed satisfaction on the state of bilateral relations that grew and consolidated in the past 60 years and agreed to further strengthen it in the future. They agreed on the exchange of high-level visits at an appropriate time for the expansion and deepening of bilateral cooperation,” said a press release from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Nepal after the two leaders spoke.
A number of Nepalese nationals work in Israel and Israelis constitute a significant part of tourists who visit the Himalayan country every year.
Prime Minister Oli urged Mr. Netanyahu to share Israel’s technological and scientific innovations with Kathmandu especially in view of the COVID-19 threat. The discussion between the two came shortly after Nepalese foreign minister Pradeep Kumar Gyawali greeted his Israeli counterpart Gabi Ashkenazi on the special occasion.
Israel and Nepal established formal diplomatic ties during the reign of King Mahendra (1956-1972). It was during this period that Bishweshwar Prasad Koirala (BP Koirala) had attempted the socialist government (1959-’60) of Nepal. Though BP Koirala was deposed by the King, he set the foundation for Israel-Nepal ties by visiting the Jewish State in 1960. Nepal’s outreach to Israel was part of its adjustment to the emergence of Nehruvian India after 1947 and China under Chairman Mao Tse Tung. This was evidenced by King Mahendra’s visit to Israel in 1963.
The last notable visit of from Nepal to Israel was in May 2016 when foreign minister Kamal Thapa visited Jerusalem.
Kathmandu during the 1960s, had its own foreign policy priorities and opened up to a number of countries across the world to conduct diplomatic exchanges.
Israel’s limited diplomacy in South Asia helped it when Nepal and Bhutan abstained during the voting of UN General Assembly Resolution 3379 which described Israel’s founding philosophy of Zionism as equivalent to racism. This resolution basically equalled Zionism with apartheid of South Africa causing international isolation of the Jewish State. India, despite being a secret recipient of Israeli military support during 1962 and subsequently, had supported the resolution on November 10, 1975. India’s multilateral diplomacy of that period is often pinned on the Indo-Soviet friendship and the US-USSR Cold War.
Interestingly, the late King Mahendra has been at the centre of discussion in Nepal during the recent weeks, especially as Kathmandu and New Delhi are caught in a territorial dispute over Kalapani. Kathmandu has repeatedly indicated that the rising tension between India and China during the 1950s and the Sino-India war of 1962 prompted the charismatic King to allow India to station troops in Nepal’s northern border with Tibet as well as in Kalapani in the west which led to the Indian hold over the high Himalayan area till now. While some commentators in Nepal have criticised King Mahendra’s decision on Kalapani, others maintain that the royal in fact acted to safeguard Nepal from an anxious India after the ’62 military setback.
The phone call between Prime Ministers Oli and Mr. Netanyahu show that, Nepal’s current rulers are returning to the foreign policy gains of the 20th century monarchs of Kathmandu though Nepal in the 21st century is vastly different from its monarchical past.