Recently, the UAE’s decision to normalize relations with the State of Israel has grabbed the attention of the world at large. Some denounced the action by declaring it as perfidy to the Palestinian cause while some hailed the decision calling it a diplomatic win-win for both states. In Pakistan, where the diplomatic move is vehemently criticized, it has also renewed the dormant debate of “Should or would Pakistan recognize the state of Israel?” Instead of rendering the question moot and giving space to further political deliberations, Prime Minister Imran Khan categorically shunned down all speculations regarding Pakistan’s possible diplomatic recognition of Israel and stated that unless an all-inclusive and just deal is reached and implemented with the agreement of Palestinian leadership, Pakistan will never recognize Israel.
Since its inception, the diplomatic relationship between Pakistan and Israel has not yet reached the point of formal recognition. Initially, the Founder of Pakistan, Muhammad Ali Jinnah turned down the friendship proposal of then Israel’s Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion and maintained that unless Palestinians are guaranteed full rights within the concept of a just and an acceptable settlement, Pakistan will not become an accomplice by recognizing the tyrannical state of Israel. Later, Mr. Zaffrullah Khan, the official representative of Pakistan to the United Nations (UN), rejected the Balfour Declaration and the UN proposed partition plan, terming them an illegitimate document and an unjust plan respectively.
Subsequently, Pakistan refrained from providing any sort of support to Israel during the 1967 war and even went on to refuse humanitarian aid for flood victims in East Pakistan. This policy of absolute alienation culminated during the 1970s when Pakistan turned away from the United States because of the former’s nuclear ambitions and socialist foreign policy drove Pakistan close to the Middle Eastern Gulf States. Also, our resource thirst for oil and the mutual aim to counter Iranian subversive threats after the Iranian revolution in 1979 strengthened the bond.
Later on, President Mohammad Zia-ul-Haq in this pursuit of Islamization of the country brought us even closer to the Islamic gulf petro-monarchies. In a particular episode in 1984, Pakistan threatened the United States over the prospect of moving its embassy to Jerusalem and severed diplomatic relations with Costa Rica on the same matter. In the 1990s, the tensed relationship entered into a new phase of normalization, and some policy circles within Pakistan advocated the establishment of friendly relations with Israel because many Arab states had formally recognized Israel, particularly the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) in 1993. But, Pakistan kept silent on the matter. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif ouster recused the issue in further disappointment.
The inexplicable closeness between India and Israel put Pakistan in utter suspicion and the issue became more terrifying when the factoid of Israel-India joint nuclear strike on Kahuta nuclear plant was rumored. But, the suspicion was cleared when Israel itself declared the reports baseless. The nuclear bomb had equally caused uneasiness both in Tel Aviv and Islamabad as the former feared that the so-called Islamic bomb may directly chide Israel’s expansionism and if not, at least, Pakistan may indirectly support other Middle Eastern nations with nukes or possibly supply know-how technology. However, Pakistan cleared her name by limiting her policy designs to India, and tensions were soon dissipated. Furthermore, General Pervez Musharraf had the same fear of extensive Israel-Indian security ties, and suspicion doubled when Israel refused to reveal treaty terms. Thus, both the states appeared to be in a deadlock and hence no formal recognition was extended to Israel.
After the creation of Israel in 1947, many states accepted her on the de facto basis with the sole exception of the Soviet Union which was the first to accept her as a de jure entity. After the 1967 war, many states withdrew their recognition most prominent of which were the Soviet Union and her satellite states. Subsequently, by the effect of Khartoum Resolution, significant Arab states resolved to continue the state of hostility by introducing a three No’s strategy: No peace, no recognition, and no negotiation with Israel.
Similarly, after the 1973 Yom-e-Kippur war several other states ended up severing diplomatic relationships with Israel, notably Cuba, Venezuela, Niger, and Iran after the revolution in 1979. However, gradually changing geopolitical realities and a visible strategic shift in international politics, urged many states around the world to make fervent attempts to accept the existence of Israel; Egypt signed a peace treaty during Camp David Talks in 1978, Palestinian Liberation Organization in 1993, and Jordan accepted this undeniable reality in 1994.
Quite recently, UAE recognized Israel by signing a peace treaty, brokered by the United States, called Abraham accord. Saudi Arabia and Turkey have also established a working relationship with Israel, though Saudi Arabia still does not officially recognize Israel. Oman that has adopted neutrality since Sultan Qaboos, has also signaled to make a move to recognize the state of Israel, along with Bahrain. As yet, despite cacophonic opposition to Israel, 163 out of 193 nations have accorded formal recognition to her.
Then, the question is why Pakistan doesn’t recognize Israel. Pakistan was created when distinct Muslim nationalism sought disengagement from an over-arching Hindu nationalism, making Islam a cardinal policy component of the country. Therefore, Pakistan’s ideological identification with Islam and for several other pragmatic political considerations, it hesitates to establish a formal diplomatic relationship with the state of Israel. In other words, her friendship with Israel could be at the expense of her long-established politico-religious ties with Muslim states and its sense of national identity.
Moreover, her unconditional recognition of Israel would imply legitimizing a hostile occupant entity and abandoning the Palestinians in their quest for freedom. It will also gravely affect her principal policy-posture for the innocent Kashmiris and would amount to denouncing the validity of the solemn right of self-determination. Precisely, recognizing Israel would imply desertion from Kashmiri cause because both Palestinians and Kashmiris have their internationally recognized right of self-determination denied; and Pakistan has repeatedly advocated this innate right of every state to determine its political fate.
Furthermore, Pakistan has always honored her international commitments and invariably stood for Muslim cause around the world. Be it Kashmir or Palestine, Pakistan has never digressed from her principled stance and has always voiced her deep concern for wailing humanity, anywhere in the world. Hence, by recognizing Israel, Pakistan will be running afoul to all the UNSC resolutions against illegal Israeli occupation and would lose international credibility as a law-abiding state.
Pakistan will not recognize a state to her sheer disadvantage. In addition to it, some practical concerns have also desisted Pakistan to make such a move for so long, for instance, the fear of an adverse response by radical Islamist groups around the region raises misgivings about an imperceptible insurgent activity within the country. Not only this, but domestic political settings have also contributed to the fear, provided the political sensitivity of the issue at hand. Pakistan’s political administration has long ruled, making an alliance of convenience with clergymen, therefore, making such a move could be seriously distressful to the Islamic political factions within Pakistan.
As for Palestine, she is in an unfortunate position because of her political deficiency to produce an adequate and effective international response, and therefore, it must be recognized before she recognizes Israel. Israel doesn’t want to liquidate her occupation and expect Palestinians or other Middle Eastern neighbors to terminate the state of belligerency against her; it is paradoxical. Therefore, taking into consideration, the malevolent attitude of Israel in the resolution of the dispute with a much recent attempt to create another ‘Bantustan’, flaunting Palestinians demands for an equitable settlement, it seems chimerical for Pakistan to ever come to a peaceful settlement with Israel.