A ‘case’ for Israel?

Flirting with the idea of recognising Israel at this stage would only distract Pakistan from the real issues, says the writer.

Support for Palestine’s right to self-determination has been a cornerstone of Pakistan’s foreign policy since 1947. All national leaders – from Jinnah to Imran Khan – have affirmed their unequivocal and unambiguous support for the cause of Palestinians (often equating it with Kashmir).

“Support for the just causes of the Muslim nations remained a priority objective of Pakistan’s foreign policy,” wrote Abdul Sattar, former federal minister, in his authoritative book on the country’s foreign policy.

In December 1947, the Quaid-i-Azam sent a cable to President Truman conveying Pakistan’s shock at the UN General Assembly’s decision to partition Palestine. Pakistan’s first foreign minister, Zafarullah Khan, was also a fierce critic of Israel. He is reported to have criticized ‘Balfour’ declaration. Since then, all governments (except Musharraf regime) have maintained this hardline approach towards Israel either for their own survival or the cause of Kashmir.

Fast forward to 2021, we are being told about the benefits of recognizing Israel. This shift in paradigm is not so sudden. It was there in the mind of policymakers for quite a while. What they needed was a real breakthrough. That breakthrough came in the form of what came to be known as Abraham Accords. It proved to be a turning point for the regional geo-political calculus. The passage which was blocking Pakistan’s way had been cleared.

However, whatever our policy may be, what needs to be realized is that a sudden shift in policy will not be enough to bridge the gap.

Pakistan’s case for Israel seems to be founded on ambiguous and unrealistic assumptions. It suffers from multiple weaknesses. The major assumptions are: rapprochement with Israel will open up the strategic and military cooperation between the two countries which, in turn, will strengthen our national defence; bilateral trade will increase; Pakistan will be able to cooperate with Israel on the scientific and technological fronts; Pakistan will gain access to holy sites; Israel’s support for India will neutralize and it will also improve our relations with the Gulf states.

However, there are patent inconsistencies in this approach.

First, since no relationship is without mutual interests, we need to figure out the possible interests of Israel vis-à-vis Pakistan other than ‘isolating’ Tehran so that it will also abandon its old approach of not recognizing Pakistan.

Second, these assumptions, as we have already held, are vague and unrealistic, if not outright irrational.

While the first assumption (strategic cooperation) is sensible given that Israel has sophisticated weaponry and military hardware of which India is already taking advantage, it is highly implausible that Israel will prefer Pakistan over India in strategic matters for the obvious reasons.

Other assumptions are downright idealistic. For example, even if Pakistan and Israel become friends, there is no chance of a ‘trade’ partnership. If trading was Pakistan’s priority, it can have a window of opportunity in the form of many other countries. Our trade conundrum is due to poor export base and a lack of global competitiveness. It has little to do with our relationship with Israel. The assumption of scientific and technological cooperation also holds little water even if Pakistan recognizes Israel because it requires decades of high investments in higher education, research and Information Technology.

Pakistan lacks the scientific base and technological infrastructure which is necessary to reap the benefits from any state partnership. Furthermore, how much benefit has Pakistan extracted from America’s scientific and technological advances remains a moot point. The assumption that Israel’s tilt towards India will neutralize is also improbable. Israel has strong economic, strategic and technological linkages with India. The two countries have many similarities. Oppressing the Muslim communities is just one of them. It will, just like the US, never please Pakistan at the risk of annoying India.

Third, the major downsides of initiating relationship with Tel Aviv are too often ignored or underestimated. One, its impact on the Kashmir cause will be enormous. It will further embolden India in its designs to suppress Kashmiris. Pakistan will lose the moral clout it has long exercised in the Muslim world. Two, in the grand scheme of things, it will not make much of a difference for Pakistan except for alienating ‘Palestinians’. The grand alliances are already decided.

Washington camp will contain countries like India, Saudi Arab and Israel. Beijing camp will cater countries like Pakistan, Iran and Russia. The global competition between the US and China will play out in all the regions. Pakistan has little leverage to exercise over these alliances. Three, it will disturb Pakistan’s ties with Tehran which Pakistan least affords. Having a common border and huge Shiite population, Pakistan doesn’t afford alienating Iran at the cost of Israel.

Last but not the least, the conservative and right-wing elements will not readily accept the recognition of Israel. It can trigger agitation in Pakistan.

Those who ask why Pakistan should not recognize Israel when Arab states are doing so should not forget that the Gulf has its own reasons for recognizing Israel which are entirely different from those of Pakistan. Their partnership with Israel is based on mutual hostility towards Iran.

Moreover, they have been persuaded by Washington (under Trump and Kushner) to mend fences. Adding the ‘Biden’ factor into the equation further complicates the matter. In Pakistan’s case, our interests vis-à-vis Israel do not overlap with those of Gulf countries.

All considered, a rigid approach is not being suggested here. Foreign Policy is a highly dynamic process and it should be treated likewise. It is never too late to review a foreign policy decision.

Kissinger school of realism (only permanent interests) is not without merits either. A wait-and-see approach is sometimes the best option when it comes to taking big and irreversible foreign policy decisions. Pakistan and Israel are not permanent enemies. It is just that Israel at this stage does not pass the simple cost-benefit criteria test. Pakistan has many other foreign policy challenges to worry about. Flirting with this idea at this stage would only distract Pakistan from the real issues.

There are times when it is better not to overthink. This is one such time for our strategic and diplomatic brains.

The writer is an avid reader and freelance writer.

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