Far from it. And this is why.
Forget the ‘ideological states’ and the ‘symbiotic affinity’ crap borne out of foundational similarities. Those who get this pang every now and then will peddle this nonsense every so often. The two don’t have common borders and have no territorial or trade relations with each other and this is unlikely to change in the near future. History carries the sense of the two being on the opposing sides if for nothing else but Jerusalem and the Holy Mosque which was the Qibla e Awal – for Muslims the control and possession of Jerusalem has been a source of historic acrimony. The sentiment is entrenched and widely shared among the people who perceive the issue of Israel, Jerusalem, Islam and Palestine in one shared frame.
The Palestinians are the other part why Israel has never been recognized by us. A people were ejected from their lands through an international conspiracy – their lands handed over to the new state of Israel. The Palestinians continue to await the implementation of an international obligation to carve them their separate homeland from the lands occupied by Israel in what is popularly known as the two-state solution. Those meant to implement – Israel’s patrons, and international guarantors arising out of numerous peace deals – continue to dither for keeping Israel, their strategic ally, in good humour. Pakistan has stood with the Palestinians as a principle – mimicking Pakistan’s stance on Kashmir – who will need to be satisfied before Israel is considered for recognition.
Israel can be recognised by Pakistan and a thriving trade developed with the most developed and progressive economy of the middle east, that Israel is, but only after three essential requirements are met: (1) Palestinians get their independent state per their aspirations; (2) Jerusalem reverts to its status of an international, cross-religious, cross-cultural center with open access to all; and (3) Israel reverts to its pre-1967 borders, as is the broader understanding of the international community for the settlement of the Israel-Palestine conflict. On the borders issue if international understanding mutates into another formulation which is acceptable to the Palestinians it should satisfy all for a sustainable and peaceful settlement to a lingering dispute.
Why then the pressure on Pakistan – if so – to recognise Israel? And by whom? An educated guess helps. Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the USA are tied into a triangular relationship. When one needs something done by the other it will use the third to influence the outcome. If the US wants a broader recognition of Israel by most Muslim states it not only will pressure Saudi Arabia into it but will probably seek a similar action by Pakistan – a notable Muslim nation and the only nuclear power in the Muslim world. It is also possible that Saudi Arabia may itself need Pakistan to first recognize Israel to follow suit – both mutually reinforce the policy choice of the other. Pakistan’s precarious financial straits have been alleviated somewhat by generous financial support from Saudi Arabia and that beholds Pakistan to Saudi gratification under the circumstances.
Why is Saudi Arabia so pushed to appease the US? Clearly, the US is Saudi Arabia’s prime benefactor in security terms. The outgoing-President Trump and his son-in-law Jared Kushner have led this campaign for Israel to find accommodation with her former Arab enemies. And hence the pressure that Trump brings to bear upon the middle east to enhance for Israel the arc of acceptability. That the Saudi royal family finds itself embroiled in a destabilising domestic sentiment, in an economy heading south, amid an unwinnable war with Yemen, rendering Saudi Arabia at its weakest in decades. It struggles to retain internal cohesion and regional strength to sustain its eminence. To that end it needs overt American support and that isn’t free lunch. Growing animosity with Iran too is a constant pressure as is a fragmented Arab world with Qatar practically the rebels in the ranks. Strained relations with Turkey also do not help. Hence the pressure of what Saudi Arabia perceives as its withering status among Muslim and Arab nations. It must thus listen to Trump and cohorts in its weakest moments.
There are other intended consequences which will play long if such a bifurcation of the Muslim world, between those that recognize Israel and those that do not, eventuates. This will neatly deepen the existing division in the Muslim world between largely Arab Muslims and the non-Arab Muslims weakening its geopolitical and geostrategic standing. Considering how assertive Recep Erdogan is about his own import and that of Turkey it will only reinforce the division. That will also pitch Iran-aligned nations into a confrontation with those aligned with Saudi Arabia supported by Israel making war a far greater possibility. It will be a long and debilitating war. It will emaciate the economies in the Muslim world even further. Divisions within the Arabs, within the Gulf and within Islam is what will eventually ruin most leaving an unstoppable inferno from consuming all. Pakistan will do well to let this pass and keep away from the morass that the middle east is planned to become with external patronage.
Closer to home we may be in a financial mess of our own supplemented by years of neglect and inept governance – and heavily dependent on support by friends like Saudi Arabia – but aren’t yet that desperate to have lost all strategic value to our Muslim brothers in the Gulf. They still must depend for a lot more on Pakistan in many areas of their critical interests. To have cold feet thus over slight pressure does not stand to reason. If indeed Arab nations are pushed to withdraw parked funds we should be able to make alternate arrangements for a short-term fillip and then supplement through alternate instruments for debt deferment with other principals. Again, the pressure is likely to be short-lived only given that a new administration is round the corner in the US to replace Trump and the drive to gain Israel more friends may no longer carry an urgency. Under Biden the Saudis and the Israelis will have new equations to settle with the US. Chances are the Biden administration may not be invested in such cart blanche to Israel and most pressures on nations like Saudi Arabia on this count should abate anyway. We just need to negotiate these last few weeks better before the world will settle to a new equilibrium. It is a matter of playing time well dissuading revolutionary innovations.
True, recognising Israel may even bring some important gains in strategic checkmating its open support to India and technology benefits in defence or agriculture, but the flip side in the current regional environment is laden with risks that we can do without – it is likely to suck us into a long, unending, debilitating war that we don’t need. Let’s not be hastened into answering a question whose time hasn’t come. Whoever initiated this thought for debate in a polarized and fragmented Pakistan is misplaced, misdirected, insidious and/or strategically inept. It is the time to let sleeping dogs lie.