The writer is a former ambassador to the US, India and China and head of UN missions in Iraq and Sudan.
This is a question which surfaces from time to time among the political elite of Pakistan. What have the Arabs or Palestinians done for Kashmir? Why should Pakistan deny itself additional access to US favours through Israel? Why should India alone reap the benefits of recognizing Israel?
Pakistan and Israel have never fought a war against each other. Israel has always welcomed the prospect of diplomatic relations with Pakistan. Moreover, as of 2020, over 160 out of 193 member states of the UN, including a number of OIC member states recognize Israel while being critical of its policies towards the Palestinians. Why can’t Pakistan emulate their example?
Indeed, on several occasions Pakistan has probed the possibility of normalizing relations with Israel, only to pull back for fear of reaction by its people and the reactions of its Gulf benefactors. Now these benefactors are lining up to recognize Israel for fear of Iran, and because of their existential dependence on their own benefactor, the US, which is pushing them to do so. It is only a matter of time before Saudi Arabia does so. It will expect Pakistan to follow suit.
But there are arguments against recognizing Israel. The Palestinian problem for non-Arab Muslims, including Pakistanis, is not just an Arab problem; it is much more a Muslim or Ummah issue. It is the direct outcome of Western colonialism and Western-abetted Jewish settlement, conquest and repression of a predominantly Muslim people, the majority of whom were expelled and compelled to leave their homeland, where the third holiest site for Muslims is located. All this legally fits the crime of genocide.
The Palestinian issue, like the Kashmir dispute, represents the brazen flouting of international law including the UN Charter and UN resolutions, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, etc which were supposed to be the foundation of the post-war and post-colonial world order.
Accordingly, Pakistan cannot adopt contradictory stands on Palestine and Kashmir without calling into question its commitment to international law, and the assumptions and values of the Pakistan Movement that brought it into existence. Short-term cost-benefit ratios are irrelevant if transcending values, which are the product of historical experience and provide the justification for Pakistan, are ignored.
Zulfikar Ali Bhutto while at a Pakistan Envoys Conference in 1972 in Izmir, Turkey, said that while great powers could flout international law, principles and norms smaller countries could not without paying a dire price for it. Pakistan had just lost East Pakistan.
Moreover, the assumption that recognizing Israel would reduce Western and Israeli bias in favour of India, to Pakistan’s advantage, is unfounded. India recognized Israel in 1950, and in partnership with the US, has developed a wide-ranging strategic relationship with it.
On August 13, President Trump tweeted that the UAE’s recognition of Israel could “presage a broader re-alignment in the region.” He said “now that the ice has been broken I expect more Arab and Muslim countries will follow UAE’s lead.” Apart from leveraging a post-Omar Bashir Sudan, he probably had Pakistan in mind.
The UAE and Bahrain’s decision to normalize relations with Israel is part of the Kushner Middle East plan which is supported by Saudi Arabia. If the Kingdom has held back on recognizing Israel so far, it is because it is the custodian of the two holiest sites of Islam, the headquarters of the OIC, the financial giant of the Muslim world and, accordingly, has to consider the sentiments of all Muslims.
However, if Trump’s electoral prospects worsen – and his health is a massive question mark – Saudi Arabia could come under US pressure to recognize Israel before the US elections. What would that mean for Pakistan? What should it mean for Pakistan? What is the Kushner Plan, which Pakistan would in effect support, if it followed suit?
Despite Gulf Arab claims that recognizing Israel prevents the annexation of the West Bank and preserves the possibility of a two-state solution that Arab countries and UN resolutions have endorsed, the truth is the exact opposite.
According to the Kushner Plan, the Palestinian state would: (i) be permanently demilitarized; (ii) obliged to disarm Hamas in Gaza; (iii) have to recognize Israel as a Jewish state; (iv) withdraw all complaints against Israel and the US from the ICC; (v) never approach the ICJ; (vi) accept Israeli responsibility for its security, control over its airspace and “electromagnetic spectrum,” and over all its imports, especially military imports; (vii) agree not to have security and intelligence agreements with any country without Israeli permission; and (viii) accept united Jerusalem as Israel’s “eternal capital” including Masjid al Aqsa. This is a total denial of Palestinian sovereignty and statehood.
In response to this Kushner Plan, the UN secretary general said the only plan he could accept was the one that respected UN resolutions and international law. That is a settlement which acknowledges the Palestinian right of self-determination, regards Palestinian territory today as under “belligerent occupation,” and Israeli settlements in the West Bank and the annexation of East Jerusalem as illegal.
For Pakistan, to even implicitly support such a bogus plan by recognizing Israel at this juncture would be to render its Kashmir policy completely non-credible. Pakistan needs to be consistent by supporting the implementation of the relevant UN resolutions as the only basis for a peace settlement in both cases.
Moreover, if principled positions consistent with UN resolutions are adhered to, it may become possible to eventually reach principled compromise settlements that take account of both current realities and the UN acknowledged rights of the people primarily concerned – the Palestinians and the Kashmiris respectively.
But India in the case of Kashmir, and Israel backed by the US in the case of Palestine, has made principled compromise settlements impossible. The Kashmiris and the Palestinians have not even been consulted about their future. Instead, they are told to accept their fate and move on. Otherwise, their situation will get even worse. Can Pakistan even indirectly associate itself with such a policy without mortally wounding itself?
It is tru that, doing the right thing by Kashmir and Palestine will entail significant costs. The US will try to punish Pakistan. India will threaten war. Saudi Arabia and its Gulf cohorts may halt their financial assistance. Remittances could dry up. Pakistan’s economy would be negatively impacted. Internal divisions may be externally stoked. Etc.
So, what is the choice for Pakistan? Remaining true to itself or betraying its soul for a supplicant soft state survival – which, at best, would only be for a while?
However, this is a false choice. It assumes Pakistan’s debilitating political and power structures are permanent. It assumes that morality, good faith, commitment, and the people are irrelevant in the ‘realpolitik’ of foreign policy. It assumes the wisdom and foresight of Quaid-e-Azam and ZAB are irrelevant in a Morgenthau world of power politics. It counterposes pragmatism to credibility and moral imperatives.
In fact, so-called ‘realism’ and pragmatism are a vital assist to principled policy, including principled compromise. But outside the context of a moral and political imperative, they provide little or no policy direction.
A comprehensive national transformation priority, in conjunction with significantly upgraded strategic cooperation with China, can maximize the range of principled choices and feasible options for Pakistan on Kashmir and other issues.
Accordingly, the challenge of doing right by our Kashmiri and Palestinian brethren may, indeed, be daunting; it is not overwhelming. And not taking up the challenge is likely to be fatal. Words can do no more.
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