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Can Pakistan be coerced to recognize Israel down the road?

Israel-Pakistan bilateral ties can likely be a reality down the lane if proper internal and external pressure is exerted on the government.

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In a recent tweet, veteran Journalist Kamran Khan called for rethinking Pakistan’s policy towards Israel.

“Pakistan must also revisit its Israel policy. Message for we Pakistanis from the Custodians of the Holy Mosques and other brothers in the Arab world. “Nations don’t have permanent friends or enemies, only interests” Why is Pakistan shy of exercising its options?” he said.

The journalist made this statement amid growing recognition of Israel by the Muslim World. In a tweet in 2019, Kamran Khan had said “High time Pakistan counter nefarious Indian designs with bold foreign policy moves. Our deepest friends making fresh alignments. No permanent friends, no enemies. Why can’t we openly debate pros and cons of opening direct and overt channels of communication with the state of Israel”.

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With internal and external pressures from states and intelligentsia, there have been calls to recognize Israel as a state and to formally build bilateral relations.

Growing coercion from External sources

In a recent TV interview, Prime Minister Imran Khan was asked questions on Pakistan’s stance on recognizing Israel. Khan emphasized that Pakistan would only recognize Israel after a “just settlement” has reached with the Palestinians. He hinted at growing pressure by allies to recognize Israel but refused to take any names citing “Leave this. There are things we cannot say. We have good relations with them”.

Turkey, a secular state, was the first Muslim majority nation to recognize Israel in 1948. After a series of wars, Jordan and Egypt formally established relations with the country.

Recently, UAE and Bahrain recognized and established formal relations with Israel in September this year followed by a heavy backlash from Muslim countries. UAE has opened its air space to Israeli planes following the UAE-Israel deal.

More gulf states are set to normalize ties with Israel. Saudi Arabia and Israel have notably grown closer sharing their common interest in combating Iran. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday met the Saudi Arabia Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman to hold secret talks.

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There is growing pressure from Trump administration on Muslim states to follow UAE and Bahrain’s lead in normalizing their ties with Israel. Pakistan denied there being any pressure from the US but Saudi Arabia is reportedly nudging Pakistan to normalize relations and considering the $2 billion dollar aid provided to Pakistan by Saudi, the latter has an upper hand in coercing its ally.

Growing internal pressure 

Journalists in Pakistan have started calling out for rethinking the Israel policy. In September Jan Achakzai did a piece for Global Village Space where he stated “Any diplomatic engagement with Israel is by-and-large rejected in the country exclusively on the premise that it has occupied Palestinian territory and hence is an aggressor. Thus, it is advocated, boycott — and isolation is the best course to deal with Israel unless Tel Aviv accepts some solution to the issue of Palestinian rights in line with their aspirations.”

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He further stated “recognition of Israel or relations with Israel has never been so high as it is today on Pakistan’s threat perception matrix. Given Israel’s close defence, intelligence and economic cooperation with India, this consideration has become a critical factor for Pakistan.”

He pointed out “Since India has forged a close nexus with Israel and the US, more than 13 percent of India’s defence spending is on Israeli equipment – and relations between the two give New Delhi unprecedented opportunity to leverage from Israel’s close ties with Washington to enhance its defence and intel capabilities making it all the more important for Pakistan to think of balancing against Indian ingress through a possible rapprochement with Tel Aviv.”

“We need to a have a routine relationship with Israel like the KSA, UAE, Oman, Egypt, Turkey—having overt and covert links among others and any possible rapprochement does not mean Palestinian issue has gone away just like improved trade, air travel protocol and normal diplomatic relations with India does not mean diminishing of the Kashmir cause or Pakistan’s support for it” he concluded.

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In a piece for Global Village Space magazine, Moeed Pirzada said “Given this new opportunity when the middle eastern rush to recognize Israel will stop for the time being, it (Pakistan) needs to move quietly to engage and build bridges of trust with Tel Aviv.”

“But given the developments of the past quarter century – Camp David, Oslo Accord, Palestinian recognition of Israel, Intifada movements, Iraq Syrian Wars and growing Arab need to recognize Israel – it’s time to move beyond those mid twentieth century street feelings” he concluded.

Outside pressure and growing internal calls can prompt the government to rethink their Israel policy.

Pakistan has different dynamics than the gulf countries and with the impeding Kashmir issue, normalizing relations with Israel will put it in a delicate position on the international scale and most likely affect its position on Kashmir. Internally, the extremist Muslim factions who are staunch critics of Israel will prove to be a steel wall for the government in support of the Palestinian people’s cause.

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