Ms Mariam Khalil is a student of Strategic Studies at the National Defence University, Islamabad.
The year 2020 unfolded some very dramatic yet interesting events, especially the ‘‘geopolitical earthquake’’ that struck the Middle East, that is, the Abraham Accords brokered by the departing Trump administration.1 This core deal set the precedent for other Arab, Muslim states to follow suit, including Bahrain, Sudan, and Morocco, and more set to follow.
While the deals were celebrated by some, they were loathed by others. In the wake of this, Pakistan was rumored as an eligible contender stirring a debate that questioned its pro-Palestinian stance, and rejection of the state of Israel.2 Eventually, curbing foreign pressure, the Pakistani government declined the idea of such an endeavor and re-established that Pakistan would maintain a traditional policy towards Israel.
“Should Pakistan establish relations with Israel?” once a taboo subject, for the first time was overtly being discussed on various media platforms. This ongoing debate brought about dominant polarized views, where one side perceives establishing relations to be best for the national interest, while the other disagrees, citing it to be against the ideological basis of the state, and religion.
Pakistan and Israel are often referred to as ‘‘ideological twins’’ because both were created on the basis of religious ideology and identity, one after the other respectively.3 Similar, yet different, Pakistan’s rejection of recognizing Israel comes from, firstly, its founding father Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s stance4 that Pakistan shouldn’t recognize Israel unless it gave freedom to the Palestinians, and also his belief that Pakistan would tender co-operation to all nations struggling for freedom.
Secondly, it is due to its Islamic identity that obligates solidarity with its Muslim brethren (Ummah) thus the widely held sympathies for the Palestinians and the prominent resentment towards Israel. Thirdly, it is linked to the Al Aqsa Mosque, and the Holy City of Jerusalem which is ideologically important to all Abrahamic religions.
Despite this, there have been instances where Pakistan and Israel covertly cooperated and there have, in the past, been efforts to establish ties with Israel.5 For example, during the Soviet Afghan war, Pakistan cooperated with Israel on intelligence; similar was the case in 2009 when Pakistan reported potential attacks on Jews in Mumbai.
Moreover, there were efforts made by former Pakistani PM Benazir Bhutto6 and President Pervez Musharraf to accommodate just that, however, it proved futile due to a robust religious opposition which proved perilous to such an endeavor. Moreover, the vast majority of the population doesn’t support such a step, and, if done so, could result in internal chaos.
Debates began when a series of normalization deals were signed between Arab states and Israel facilitated by the United States. Reports started circulating that Pakistan was set to follow suit, given to the building pressure from friendly states7, paving for them an easy path to establishing ties with the apartheid state.
That is due to the fact that Pakistan has one of the largest Muslim populations in the world, coupled with its nuclear power status. However, Pakistan has rightfully and categorically rejected the idea, and PM Khan stated that it is to maintain its traditional policy towards Israel till a solution is found to the Palestinian question.8
Pakistan and Israel have pursued relations and policy against each other based on history and established religious identities. However, these relations can change if issues are resolved, interests converge, or if beliefs and ideas are changed. Anti-Zionism is prevalent in Pakistan due to numerous factors. Apart from religious factors, the Muslims of the sub-continent held in high regard the Ottoman Caliphate.
Therefore, the Zionist hand that played a part to weaken the Caliphate, and later, in the dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire is one. Moreover, the Balfour Declaration of 1917 was condemned by the founding fathers of Pakistan who advocated the continued support for the (Muslim brethren) Palestinian and Arab cause.9 Additionally, the city of Jerusalem is of significant importance to all Abrahamic religions, hence there are disputes linked to that.
Pak-Israel Relations from a Constructivist’s Point of View
According to constructivism, the social construction of reality isn’t through the material structure, but the ideational structure. Thus, the factors that the relations rely upon aren’t the Palestinian cause and Jerusalem (the material structure), but rather it is what they represent to the people and states; their importance through religious obligation and state ideology – and security for Israel (ideational structure).
Both Pakistan and Israel perceive each other in a similar way (inter-subjectivity) which forms the basis of their interactions. However, as can be seen recently, Pakistan and Israel have the capacity to change the nature of their relations from resentment to good ones. Moreover, Pakistan is contemplating reconsidering its ties with Israel.
Nonetheless, to bring a change in the nature of relations with Israel, Pakistan would need to bring significant change in the beliefs held within the state. Bringing reform or change in the deep-rooted, stern beliefs prevailing in Pakistan’s conservative society would prove to be a challenge.
Moreover, both countries act according to their established identities; Pakistan acts according to its “Islamic identity” and has, for most of its history, adopted a policy based on Muslim unity towards the Middle Eastern countries, as evident in its moral assistance to Palestine and the rejection of Israel.
In regards to normalization, the Muslim states that have recognized Israel have set a new norm, and some argue that Pakistan should follow suit. A rather intriguing factor to observe is that the states that have recognized Israel are Muslim authoritarian regimes and monarchies, thus as they identify, the regimes normalized relations with Israel without the consent of their public.
In contrast, Pakistan identifies itself as a democratic state and is increasingly accountable to the public. Furthermore, there is constant pressure from the religious and public opposition, hence it would be much harder for the state to establish ties against the will of the people.
The creation of Israel was a product of the Jewish eschatological beliefs that signified the return of the Jews to their historical homeland, and as part of this, is the wait for the Messiah and the Israelites continue to work towards that by pursuing policies based on their eschatological beliefs. Moreover, they’re trying to increase power, legitimacy, and expand, leading to the swift emergence of their Messiah.
Some Christians, especially Evangelical Christians, or the Christian Zionists, are very supportive of Israel. This stems from their belief that Jesus (PBUH) is the Messiah, and the creation of Israel was in accordance with a biblical prophecy, that is, the gathering of the Jews in Israel was a prerequisite of the second coming of Jesus, and Jerusalem is viewed as its historical and biblical capital.10
This explains a lot in the context of the robust support Israel enjoys of the West, especially the United States. In comparison, the Islamic eschatological perspective is quite intriguing, showing some similarities to the other Abrahamic perspectives but, with a little twist.11 In Islam, Jesus, or Isa (PBUH), is a Messenger of Allah sent to the Israelites, and the Messiah.
According to Muslim eschatological beliefs, Isa (PBUH) will descend upon the earth (the Second Coming) close to the end of times, join Al Mahdi (A.S.) in the war against the Anti-Christ/False Messiah or the Dajjal. In Islamic tradition, the Dajjal is the messiah that the Israelites are anxiously awaiting, who will come and spread destruction and corruption upon the earth leading to Armageddon.12
The Dajjal will perish resulting in the establishment of Just Peace, and finally, the establishment of the Hour and Reckoning will follow. The Israelites are in constant motion, working towards fulfilling the requirements for their Messiah’s arrival.13 For this, they established an occupational state in the land of Palestine with expansionist motives, furthermore, they freely form policies and politics are tailored to suit their cause.
The argument here is, if Israel has the right to practice politics and policy in relation to its religious views and identity, then why can’t Pakistan, or why is it wrong for us to do the same? The difference between the two is only that Israel has a stronger presence and influence in the West, and masks its motives and interests with diplomacy and (questionable) liberal values.
Then, why should Pakistan, a symbol of Islamic identity, subside its religious, moral, and ideological beliefs just to get its name out of ‘‘Santa’s’’ naughty list.14 Undoubtedly, the international system is anarchic, and power politics based on self-centered national interests is a reality; however, it is a reality within a greater reality.
It is something that those who run the state of Israel realize, and optimize to suit their cause. Pakistan should do the same, but not at the expense of its religious or ideological beliefs and identity. It is possible for Pakistan, rationally, and in the state’s best national interest.
For context, in the 1980s, Oded Yinon, an Israeli journalist wrote an article titled ‘‘Strategy for Israel in the Eighties’’ published in the Israeli periodical called Kivvonim. In his article, he advocated a strategy to maintain Israeli regional superiority by reconfiguring Arab states into fragmented and weaker sectarian states, or a ‘‘mosaic of ethnic and confessional groupings’’.15 Furthermore, after that, Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia would be divided and later absorbed into a ‘‘Greater Israel’’. This strategy came to be known as the Yinon Plan.16
Moreover, Oded further explained that the Muslim world, from the Maghreb to South Asia, is self-destructive, like a ‘‘house of cards put together by foreigners’’ (Britain and France) without the wishes of the inhabitants being taken into account, and that it is made of various minorities hostile towards one another which at one point would directly oppose one another, eventually leading this ‘‘house of cards’’ to collapse.17
It is interesting how Yinon’s predictions hit the nail on the head, reflecting the current scenario in the Middle East, and how Israel is benefitting from it. It is believed that the plan has been updated, however, there is little information available on the topic.18 Since its establishment, Israel, a lone Jewish state, has been alienated in the region, surrounded by foes and hostile states.
Moreover, Israel has been at war with all its neighbors collectively numerous times. However, Israel has successfully overcome its obstacles through its powerful western allies. Moreover, it sought to secure itself by engaging in cooperation, and indirect control over some of its opponents like the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and Jordan which accepted to co-operate and ensure Israeli security in return for a two-state solution,19 which, to date, is nowhere close to being realized.
There are no permanent friends and no permanent enemies in the anarchic international system. Therefore, a state must ensure its own survival through obtaining power and legitimacy, as has Israel; that can be observed in the case of the recent normalization agreements with several Arab states.
With the current intensifying regional scenario, Israel saw an apt opportunity to further its objectives. Since 2016, Tel Aviv has attained maximum utility out of the Trump presidency through the Deal of the Century, the embassy move to Jerusalem, the expansion of illegal settlements not just in the West Bank but also plans to extend into the Jordan Valley.
Furthermore, the then up-coming US Presidential elections, the building tensions in the Gulf against Iran, coupled with intra-Gulf rivalries, regional power politics, and economic benefits proved beneficial; where interests converged the decades-long hostilities between Israel and Arab states were set aside to pave the way for cooperation.
This, in turn, carved a path for Israel to increase its power and influence within the region; as conflicts and rivalries intensify in the region, Israel has the most to gain through selling its weapons, and subjugation of the normalizing Muslim countries,20 that is becoming more evident by the day.21
As a result, the Palestinian voice is further marginalized and threatened to become extinct; in addition to this, it will cut off support for the Palestinian cause. Although the new US President Biden’s administration is considered more pragmatic compared to his predecessor, it’s more likely so that his administration will support Israel the same way, unconditionally.22
It is likely that it would be more sympathetic towards Israel and expect more compromises from the Arab Muslim regimes. The fact of the matter is that it is a vital and great triumph for the occupational state towards attaining legitimacy and acceptance as a sovereign power in the Middle East.
Will Pakistan Give Its Support?
In order to further effectuate this, it will desire that Pakistan recognize Israel, as it’s one of the most populous Muslim states, the sole nuclear power in the Muslim world, and a vocal supporter of the Palestinian cause. This would pave way for other Muslim states to do the same.
However, Pakistan shouldn’t give in to peer pressure and run towards it just yet. In Pakistan, some argue that accepting Israel would be best in the national interest of the country. It is thought that normalization would result in improved ties with the United States; if the past is any guide, when has Pakistan ever benefitted by appeasing the West?
Be it during the 1971 war, or the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, or the War on Terror, or other matters, the US has always left Pakistan hanging by a thread. Meanwhile, as Pakistan dealt with the consequences, it also learned neutrality and to skillfully balance between powers for survival. Therefore, it may seem radical or imprudent, but Islamabad has nothing to lose by maintaining its traditional policy towards Israel.
Moreover, Pakistan has more to gain from China, and should not risk any hostility from Iran. Normalizing with Israel will bring limited benefits, what will be certain is that the United States and Israel will use Pakistan for regional ambitions and later leave Pakistan empty-handed. It will also become a source of anarchy within the country.
Keeping this in mind, Pakistan can’t trust Israel and should wait a few years and observe how normalization turns out for its Arab brethren. Additionally, it is wishful thinking that by establishing ties Pakistan will be able to achieve something for the Palestinians;23 in fact, it will be able to achieve as much as Egypt, Jordan, or Turkey have since their deals which is not much.
Pakistan is doing more now by morally and diplomatically supporting a two-state solution than it will ever as a normalizer. In the case of Kashmir, it would be mere hypocrisy and Pakistan will be left with no moral grounds to support the cause. Pakistan doesn’t even possess a bargaining chip like Morocco or Sudan.
If it is thought that Pakistan can extract a favorable solution to Kashmir through a deal, or debt relief, etcetera, it is naïve and wrong. The US and Israel have strategic partnerships with India, they won’t go against India’s wishes (a counter-weight to China’s growing influence), and wouldn’t desire a strong self-sufficient Pakistan.
With the shift from a unipolar to a multipolar world, Pakistan should seek to stay closer to China, whilst keeping a consistent policy with the US and the Middle East. This is because Pakistan’s long-term interests lie with China.24 Moving forward, how the Arab normalization will unfold, will be revealed in a matter of years. Pakistan could play a counter-balancing role in case of instability.25
In conclusion, Pakistan is heading in the right direction for the time being by maintaining a traditional stance regarding Israel. As PM Imran Khan has reiterated, Pakistan will not establish relations with Israel unless a just settlement is reached with the Palestinians.
1 Thomas L. Friedman, “A Geopolitical Earthquake Just Hit the Mideast,” The New York Times, last modified August 14, 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/08/13/opinion/israel-uae.html
2 Jan Achakzai, “UAE’s Deal with Israel and Pakistan’s Populist FP Dilemma,” Global Village Space, last modified September 19, 2020, https://www.globalvillagespace.com/uaes-deal-with-israel-and-pakistans-populist-fp-dilemma/
3 Ishaan Tharoor, “The Pakistani origins of the Israeli state,” The Washington Post, last modified December 3, 2014, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2014/12/03/the-pakistani-origins-of-the-israeli-state/
4 Dr. Ghulam A. Chaudhry, “IQBAL AND JINNAH ON PALESTINE,” International Iqbal Society – Allama Iqbal, accessed January 19, 2021, https://www.iqbal.com.pk/944-allama-iqbal-studies/scholarly-articles/1631-iqbal-and-jinnah-on-palestine
5 Varsha Koduvayur and Akhil Bery, “Curb Your Enthusiasm for an Israel-Pakistan Peace Agreement,” The Diplomat, last modified December 3, 2020, https://thediplomat.com/2020/12/curb-your-enthusiasm-for-an-israel-pakistan-peace-agreement/
6 Imran Jan, “Pakistan Recognizing Israel is Dirty Politics. But It’s Legitimate | Opinion,” Haaretz.com, last modified December 27, 2020, https://www.haaretz.com/world-news/.premium-pakistan-recognizing-israel-is-dirty-politics-but-it-s-legitimate-1.9402390
7 “Pakistan ‘categorically’ Rejects Reports About Recognising Israel,” Al Jazeera, last modified November 25, 2020, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/11/25/pakistan-categorically-rejects-reports-about-recognising-israel
9 Chaudhry, “IQBAL AND JINNAH ON PALESTINE”.
10 Philip Bump, “Half of evangelicals support Israel because they believe it is important for fulfilling end-times prophecy,” The Washington Post, last modified May 14, 2018, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/politics/wp/2018/05/14/half-of-evangelicals-support-israel-because-they-believe-it-is-important-for-fulfilling-end-times-prophecy/
11 Ofer Livne-Kafri, “Jerusalem in Early Islam: The Eschatological Aspect,” Arabica 53, no. 3 (2006), doi:10.1163/157005806777900297.
12 Sahih Muslim, “Hadith 2897, Book 54, Hadith 44, Book 41, Hadith 6924,” Sunnah.com – Sayings and Teachings of Prophet Muhammad (صلى الله عليه و سلم), accessed January 18, 2021, https://sunnah.com/muslim/54/44
13 Ryan Jones, “Top Rabbis: Look at the Signs, Messiah is Coming!,” Israel Today, last modified August 3, 2020, https://www.israeltoday.co.il/read/top-rabbis-look-at-the-signs-messiah-is-coming/
18 Roger Van Zwanenberg, “Middle East Chaos: Cock-up or Conspiracy?,” Middle East Eye, last modified August 25, 2015, https://www.middleeasteye.net/opinion/middle-east-chaos-cock-or-conspiracy
19 Abrahams, Alexei S. “NOT DARK YET: The Israel-PA Principal-Agent Relationship, 1993–2017.” In Proxy Wars: Suppressing Violence through Local Agents, edited by Berman Eli and Lake David A., 185-209. ITHACA; LONDON: Cornell University Press, 2019.
20 Israel Shahak, “Making the Arab World Collapse,” Journal of Palestine Studies, Volume 11/12, 1982. doi:10.2307/2538350.
21 Lahav Harkov, “‘MBS ready to meet Netanyahu in Abu Dhabi,’ Emirati source says,” The Jerusalem Post, March 10, 2021, https://www.jpost.com/israel-news/netanyahu-heading-to-uae-to-meet-crown-prince-661545; Mostafa Salem, Andrew Carey, and Amir Tal, “Emiratis Accuse Netanyahu of Exploiting Normalization Deal for Election Gain,” CNN, last modified March 18, 2021, https://edition.cnn.com/2021/03/18/middleeast/uae-israel-normalization-deal-tensions-intl/index.html
22 Ali Harb, “Kamala Harris Pledges Unconditional Support for Israel,” Middle East Eye, last modified August 27, 2020, https://www.middleeasteye.net/news/kamala-harris-pledges-unconditional-support-israel
23 “Israel Approves New West Bank Settler Homes, Weeks After ‘peace’ Deals with UAE, Bahrain,” Middle East Eye, last modified October 14, 2020, https://www.middleeasteye.net/news/israel-palestine-west-bank-settlements-uae-bahrain-deal
24 “Pakistan’s Economic Future Linked to China: PM Imran,” The Express Tribune, last modified September 3, 2020, https://tribune.com.pk/story/2262350/pakistans-economic-future-linked-to-china-pm-imran
25 Shahak, “Making the Arab World Collapse,”.
- Abrahams, Alexei S. “NOT DARK YET: The Israel-PA Principal-Agent Relationship, 1993–2017.” In Proxy Wars: Suppressing Violence through Local Agents, edited by Eli Berman and David A. Lake, 185-209. ITHACA; LONDON: Cornell University Press, 2019.
- Achakzai, Jan. “UAE’s Deal with Israel and Pakistan’s Populist FP Dilemma.” Global Village Space. Last modified September 19, 2020. https://www.globalvillagespace.com/uaes-deal-with-israel-and-pakistans-populist-fp-dilemma/.
- Bump, Philip. “Half of evangelicals support Israel because they believe it is important for fulfilling end-times prophecy.” The Washington Post. Last modified May 14, 2018. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/politics/wp/2018/05/14/half-of-evangelicals-support-israel-because-they-believe-it-is-important-for-fulfilling-end-times-prophecy/.
- Chaudhry, Dr. Ghulam A. “IQBAL AND JINNAH ON PALESTINE.” International Iqbal Society – Allama Iqbal. Accessed January 19, 2021. https://www.iqbal.com.pk/944-allama-iqbal-studies/scholarly-articles/1631-iqbal-and-jinnah-on-palestine.
- Friedman, Thomas L. “A Geopolitical Earthquake Just Hit the Mideast.” The New York Times. Last modified August 14, 2020. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/08/13/opinion/israel-uae.html.
- Harb, Ali. “Kamala Harris Pledges Unconditional Support for Israel.” Middle East Eye. Last modified August 27, 2020. https://www.middleeasteye.net/news/kamala-harris-pledges-unconditional-support-israel.
- Harkov, Lahav. “‘MBS ready to meet Netanyahu in Abu Dhabi,’ Emirati source says.” The Jerusalem Post, March 10, 2021. https://www.jpost.com/israel-news/netanyahu-heading-to-uae-to-meet-crown-prince-661545.
- “Israel Approves New West Bank Settler Homes, Weeks After ‘peace’ Deals with UAE, Bahrain.” Middle East Eye. Last modified October 14, 2020. https://www.middleeasteye.net/news/israel-palestine-west-bank-settlements-uae-bahrain-deal.
- Jan, Imran. “Pakistan Recognizing Israel is Dirty Politics. But It’s Legitimate | Opinion.” Haaretz.com. Last modified December 27, 2020. https://www.haaretz.com/world-news/.premium-pakistan-recognizing-israel-is-dirty-politics-but-it-s-legitimate-1.9402390.
- Jones, Ryan. “Top Rabbis: Look at the Signs, Messiah is Coming!” Israel Today. Last modified August 3, 2020. https://www.israeltoday.co.il/read/top-rabbis-look-at-the-signs-messiah-is-coming/.
- Koduvayur, Varsha, and Akhil Bery. “Curb Your Enthusiasm for an Israel-Pakistan Peace Agreement.” The Diplomat. Last modified December 3, 2020. https://thediplomat.com/2020/12/curb-your-enthusiasm-for-an-israel-pakistan-peace-agreement/.
- Livne-Kafri, Ofer. “Jerusalem in Early Islam: The Eschatological Aspect.” Arabica 53, no. 3 (2006), 382-403. doi:10.1163/157005806777900297.
- Muslim, Sahih. “Hadith 2897, Book 54, Hadith 44, Book 41, Hadith 6924.” Sunnah.com – Sayings and Teachings of Prophet Muhammad (صلى الله عليه و سلم). Accessed January 18, 2021. https://sunnah.com/muslim/54/44.
- “Pakistan ‘categorically’ Rejects Reports About Recognising Israel.” Al Jazeera. Last modified November 25, 2020. https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/11/25/pakistan-categorically-rejects-reports-about-recognising-israel.
- “Pakistan’s Economic Future Linked to China: PM Imran.” The Express Tribune. Last modified September 3, 2020. https://tribune.com.pk/story/2262350/pakistans-economic-future-linked-to-china-pm-imran.
- Salem, Mostafa, Andrew Carey, and Amir Tal. “Emiratis Accuse Netanyahu of Exploiting Normalization Deal for Election Gain.” CNN. Last modified March 18, 2021. https://edition.cnn.com/2021/03/18/middleeast/uae-israel-normalization-deal-tensions-intl/index.html.
- Shahak, Israel. “Making the Arab World Collapse.” Journal of Palestine Studies 11, no. 4 (1982), 209-214. doi:10.1525/jps.1982.11.4.00p0023j.
- Tharoor, Ishaan. “The Pakistani origins of the Israeli state.” The Washington Post. Last modified December 3, 2014. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2014/12/03/the-pakistani-origins-of-the-israeli-state/.
- Van Zwanenberg, Roger. “Middle East Chaos: Cock-up or Conspiracy?” Middle East Eye. Last modified August 25, 2015. https://www.middleeasteye.net/opinion/middle-east-chaos-cock-or-conspiracy.
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