Ties with Israel

Updated 16 Aug 2020

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IN the aftermath of the shock announcement of the establishment of relations between Israel and the UAE, there is feverish speculation about which Arab/Muslim country will be next to forge ties with the Zionist state.

Beyond the realm of conjecture, none other than the president of the US has confirmed that this process has begun, and it is a matter of when, not if. The US “believes that more Arab and Muslim countries will follow” the UAE’s lead, reads a White House statement.

Bahrain is believed to be next in line, while Jared Kushner, Donald Trump’s son-in-law and his Middle East emissary, told American media that “it is an inevitability that Saudi Arabia and Israel will have fully normalised relations. ...” However, Riyadh itself has, till now, kept silent on Abu Dhabi’s latest move.

For Pakistan, the million-dollar question remains how to react to these fast-changing geopolitical realities, especially if most of our Arab brothers decide to cast their lot with Israel. The Foreign Office’s reaction to the UAE-Israel deal has been described as ambiguous. This is to be expected, for the Emiratis are close partners of this country, politically and economically.

The FO has said the deal will have “far-reaching” implications, though it reiterated that this country’s approach will be guided by how the “Palestinians’ rights and aspirations are upheld”. Observers were quick to point out that the language of the statement was vague, as Pakistan had always demanded Israel withdraw to the pre-1967 borders, and that Al Quds be the Palestinian capital.

Beyond generalities, the time is not far when Pakistan will have to take a firm stand on this issue, and if more Gulf Arabs decide to recognise Israel, there will be tremendous pressure on this country from our ‘friends’ in Washington and the Gulf to follow suit.

During the Musharraf era, the idea of establishing ties with Israel was floated, with the then foreign minister meeting his Israeli counterpart in 2005. However, those plans were quickly shelved when the general sensed the public mood here was not ready to accept ties with Tel Aviv.

Now, again there is debate about how to proceed. There should be a thorough discussion on the national level on the pros and cons of establishing ties with Israel. However, a few ground realities must be kept in mind. Any such move should be conditioned on Israel ending its brutal treatment of the Palestinians, and moving back to the pre-1967 borders. Without such assurances, Pakistan would join others in rewarding Israel for its blatant disregard for human rights.

Moreover, if Israel is embraced by the Muslim world without a just resolution to the Palestine question, the Kashmir cause will also suffer, as India will be further emboldened to crush the Kashmiris. Pakistan must make a decision in a democratic manner, guided by its long-standing support for the fundamental rights of the Palestinians.

Published in Dawn, August 16th, 2020