Yasmeen Aftab Ali
The one thing consistent between nations of the world is an inconsistency in their relationships over time. This has to do with change of policies, changing economic needs and goals, changing regional hegemony and players involved, to name a few.
US policies under Trump send out mixed signals to the world, U turns, changes in stance towards issues rule the roost. In spite of Trump taking a hard line with Iran, he is not viewed as a man with clear policy directions. This includes misgivings by Arab nations. This changing environment is leading nations who were viewed as allies of US scrambling in an effort to build bridges with EU, China and Russia. The unpredictability that rules American politics under Trump has upset the entire spectrum of political arena.
“Perhaps the most surprising thing about the Arab world today is how relatively uncontroversial Israel has become. This is a dramatic shift from decades during which hostility to Israel served as perhaps the most important unifier of often fractious Arab governments,” write Shai Feldman and Tamara Cofman Wittes.
There appears to be waning of interest in Palestinian issue. Seventy years of supporting Palestinian issue has precious little to show for it. This does not mean the cause should be given up. What it does mean is that by striking a balance with Israel, entering into trade agreements and treaties with Israel, these nations are in a better position to talk about the Palestinian issue sitting across the table.
Over the past few decades Israel has been transformed into a technological economy that is extremely innovative and forward looking. Their advanced surveillance technology that has been extended to the members of the Gulf Cooperation Council. Israel, over all this time nations have spent their energy in hating them, focused on their energy sector becoming an energy exporter. Shai Feldman and Tamara Cofman Wittes state, “The recent 10-year, $15 billion agreement signed between Israeli and Egyptian companies for the sale of natural gas is a game-changer in Arab-Israeli politics. This agreement will allow Egypt to profit from liquefying and re-exporting the purchased gas to Europe and Africa, boosting its prospects as a regional energy hub and creating economic interdependence between two former enemies.” (Brookings: March 26, 2018)
In October 2018, Pakistan’s sugar daddy China’s Vice President Wang Qishan visited Israel for three days seeking Israeli support with their Belt and Road Initiative. On one hand China wants access to Israeli technology while on the other hand China is trying to broaden the base for her future strategies in the Middle East where an understanding with Israel can reap dividends. This is without question, smart strategy.
Pakistan’s other sugar daddy Saudi Arab has shown a public acceptance of Israel’s right to exist in an area associated by ancient Jewish history. The views came via Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman in The Atlantic (BBC News: 3 April 2018) Ending February 2018, senior Saudi Arab and Israeli officials met in Cairo aimed at “warming ties” between both nations, reports The Times of Israel. Also, Swiss newspaper Basler Zeitung revealed the fact that there exists a “secret alliance” between Saudi Arabia and Israel, intended “to restrain Iran’s expansion in the region, despite the absence of any official relations between the two countries.” (Middle East MonitorJanuary 8, 2018)
In this changing global environment comes our President Arif Alvi’s comment that Pakistan will not establish ties with Israel due to her support with Palestine as the Gaza Strip which has suffered “unprecedented atrocities” like Kashmir. This is very true however, the unprecedented atrocities suffered by people of Occupied Indian Kashmir never stopped Pakistan from establishing and maintaining contacts with India. Supporting Palestine is a just cause. One Pakistan is rightfully pursuing. It’s not the strategy that is questionable but how Pakistan goes about to support the issue is.
Revisiting the Pakistani policy towards Israel is just not done. It’s an extremely sensitive topic. In spite of the fact the geopolitical environment has changed over years.
However, even if PTI government wishes to improve relationship with Israel, it does not seem on the cards in near future. First, Imran Khan knows that the Islamist based groups’ garnered 5 million votes in the elections. Any effort to change policy towards Israel can create an internal turmoil. Second, his political opponents can also use this against him undermining his standing as his first wife Jemima Goldsmith had ethnic Jewish roots and whipping up a religious frenzy connecting ‘the dots’. Third and maybe the most important is that in his effort to step back from his western leaning of hey days, Imran Khan has developed rightist leanings. He may not favor a changed pro-Israeli policy himself.
Wajid Shamsul Hassan, former Pakistan’s commissioner to UK states, “Should Pakistan give diplomatic recognition to Israel or not is a crucial question. I feel that Pakistan should act pragmatically instead of emotionally. Rhetorical condemnation of Israel by PTI leaders to the suggestion for diplomatic recognition of Israel is understandable as a populist ploy to placate the anti- Israeli sentiments of Islamists in Pakistan. To me issue of recognition is merely a formality especially when accepting Saudi billions is much more or less like accepting Israeli or American money. President Trump being a very candid leader, made it clear that Crown Prince Salman Bin Muhammad cannot last in power for more than two weeks without American support. Indeed, Saudis must have sought Washington’s approval directly and Tel Aviv’s indirectly before doling out the breather billions to Imran Khan.” A biting comment by any standards. But realistic.