Once again, the news of Arab-Israel rapprochement generates ripples particularly in Pakistan. Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen in a press conference stated that at least six or seven Muslim countries are in constant touch in the context of extending diplomatic recognition to the Jewish state. He further revealed that Saudi Arabia is closer than ever in extending diplomatic recognition to the sate of Israel.
Pakistan goes on the argument that if the USA and Saudi Arabia compel Islamabad on the recognition of Israel, it would have severe repercussions for its domestic and foreign policy, i.e., anti-Israeli public opinion, tilt towards anti-Iranian camp and it will also challenge the legality of Kashmir issue. The article argues that the domestic factors still prevail in Pakistan’s foreign policy towards Israel as compared to other influencers.
On the issue of diplomatic normalization with Israel, Pakistan will likely face immense pressure from the USA and Saudi Arabia. America has been a steadfast supporter of Israel’s diplomatic relations with the Muslim world. Egypt, Jordan, UAE, Sudan, Bahrain, and Morrocco signed a peace treaty and established diplomatic relations with Israel through the mediation of the USA. It has been reported that even the American administration pressurized Pakistani former Prime Minister Imran Khan to gear up normalization with Israel.
Despite the eagerness to proceed further with the recognition of Israel, the US administration realizes the fact that it would be unwise to squeeze Pakistan to the point where a clash is unavoidable with public opinion.
Saudi Arabia’s evolving diplomatic stance on Israel is no surprise to the world. It was reported earlier that the Abraham Accords 2020 between Israel and four Arab nations, namely Morocco, UAE, Bahrain, and Sudan, had an implicit nod from the Saudi monarch. The difference between Saudi Arabia’s strategic preferences and Pakistan’s reluctance to ignore Riyadh’s choices would have huge implications for Pakistan’s foreign policy.
Saudi Arabia views itself as the leader of the Sunni world. Being a Sunni-majority country, Pakistan naturally aligns itself with the Saudi-led Arab block. More than 3 million people are working in the kingdom. They send around $ 4.5 billion, which accounts for half of foreign remittances in Pakistan.
In the previous government of Imran Khan, reports were circulating that Saudi Arabia was one of those countries involved in pressurizing Pakistan to extend recognition to Israel. Muhammad Ali Siddiqi, a Karachi-based Middle East analyst, says that if Pakistan accepts Israel, a credit will go to Riyadh. Even the memory of Saudi threats is fresh when Muhammad Bin Salman threatened Islamabad to expel Pakistani workers from the kingdom if Pakistani PM Imran Khan attended the Kuala Lumpur summit.
Unlike Jamal Abdul Nasir’s ‘Pan Arab’ ideology, the Iran Islamic Revolution of 1979 inculcated the spirit of ‘the unity of the Islamic world’ in the region. Imam Khomeini outlined Iran’s foreign policy in which Israel is declared an illegitimate state. Later on, it became the policy of every subsequent Iranian regime to inhibit the growth of Israel’s regional influence.
Iranian foreign policy behavior revolves around the point that any type of relations with Israel would be tantamount to the betrayal of Islam, which automatically translates into hostility with other states having diplomatic relations with the state of Israel.
Iran would take Pakistan’s recognition of Israel as an act of teaming up with its enemies in the Middle East. Consequently, it would cause a severe backlash among the Shia population in the world. Moreover, Pakistan comprises 10-15 percent Shia population. Political analysts also expect that Iran could use Shia people to denounce Pakistan’s recognition of Israel, with serious implications for public order.
In Pakistan, like other Muslim countries, public sentiments are very strong in condemnation of the Israeli occupation of Palestine territory. For a majority of ordinary Pakistanis, Palestine has always been an issue close to their heart. In the past, many Pakistanis fought against Israel alongside the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). In the recent bombardment of Gaza, people from all walks of life from Pakistan, including progressive activists, intellectuals, and students, have campaigned in favor of Palestinians.
Appealing to the commoners, all right-wing political parties and religious groups appear critical of forming diplomatic relations with Israel. The 2005 meeting between Pakistan Foreign Minister Khurshid Mehmood Kasuri and his Israeli counterpart Silvan Shalom was criticized heavily by Pakistan’s Islamic parties. To protect the public face, even secular political parties like the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) seem less enthusiastic about forming diplomatic relations with Israel.
In the intellectual circles of Pakistan, there is an inclination to equate the Kashmir dispute with the Palestine problem. Analysts point out that recognizing Israel would be detrimental to the Kashmir struggle for self-determination. Sardar Atiq Ahmed Khan, the former prime minister of Azad Jammu and Kashmir, said: “The idea of normalization with Israel was like abandoning the people of Kashmir.” The likely impacts of recognition of Israel for Pakistan would make it difficult to justify the Kashmir issue to the world.
The anticipated Saudi-Israel diplomatic normalization initiated a debate on whether Pakistan should recognize Israel or not. More and more opinions are pouring in about the recognition of Israel and its possible implications for Pakistan’s domestic and foreign policy. However, Pakistan remains reluctant to line up with Saudi and American instructions on this issue. Due to domestic pressure, no right-wing or liberal political party would easily be ready to show much enthusiasm on this issue.
The author holds a PhD in International Politics from Shandong University, China, with publications in prestigious platforms including HEC, The Modern Diplomacy, and Pakistan Observer. Currently, He serves as an Assistant Professor in Political Science and International Affairs.