The External Affairs Ministry on Thursday said that India has not discussed with Israel the possibility of Indians workers replacing Palestinian labourers in the West Asian nation.

After a phone call with Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said that the leaders had discussed “advancing the arrival of foreign workers from India to the State of Israel”.

The statement by Netanyahu’s office was also in contrast to the external affairs ministry’s response to a question in the Rajya Sabha on December 14. The Centre had denied having discussed the matter with the West Asian country.

When asked about this, Arindam Bagchi, the spokesperson of the external affairs ministry, said that the government’s statement in Parliament stands.

“Of course, on a larger perspective, India has been looking at labour mobility agreements around the world, so that our citizens get access to the global workplace, they are treated fairly, their rights are protected,” Bagchi said on Thursday. “If you are looking at any specific job opportunities, Indian citizens are free to go abroad and take job opportunities. So I am not going to comment on what the Israeli readout about the conversation is.”

Since Israel’s war on Gaza began in October, in response to an attack by Palestinian militant group Hamas, the Israeli authorities have deported thousands of Palestinian workers.

The Israeli construction industry has reportedly asked its government to allow companies to recruit one lakh Indian workers to replace the 90,000 Palestinians whose work permits have been cancelled since the conflict started.

The Indian government has not confirmed these reports. On Thursday, Bagchi said that it was being assumed that the government was sending workers from India to Israel.

“On the government’s position, we have said what is there, and that is actually, you know, what we have said in Parliament,” Bagchi said. “But if somebody is taking a job on their own or somebody is organising, Indian citizens do go abroad on their own. It does not have to be through any G2G [government-to-government] mechanisms, opportunities for jobs abroad are circulated by various bodies without any specific G2G mechanism.”

Bagchi said that there are a large number of Indians who work in Israel’s healthcare, caregiver and construction sectors.

However, the Haryana Kaushal Rozgar Nigam set up by the Bharatiya Janata Party government in the state sought applications on December 15 to fill 3,000 vacancies for workers in Israel’s construction sector, the Deccan Herald reported.

“We will start the process in Delhi and Chennai next week on December 27,” Shay Pauzner, the deputy director general and spokesperson for the Israel Builders Association, told PTI. “At the moment, we are looking to bring in 10,000 as per government approvals and this will scale up to 30,000 in the near future depending on how it goes. It is an ongoing exercise and will take months. The selection starting next week will last 10-15 days.”