Israel's Quest For Recognition By Muslim Countries And Pakistan's Choices

The only lever that could move the needle for the Palestinians used to be Washington DC and it has long abandoned them

Israel's Quest For Recognition By Muslim Countries And Pakistan's Choices

On 14 May 1948, the British Mandate ended in Palestine and the Jewish People’s Council officially approved a proclamation declaring the establishment and independence of the State of Israel. The stateless Jews of the world now had a country and a homeland. The USA was the first country to recognise Israel when US President Harry S Truman granted de-facto recognition just eleven minutes after the declaration of independence. Three days later, the USSR recognised Israel. A year after its birth, Israel became the 59th member of the United Nations on 11 May 1949. Today, the state of Israel has diplomatic relations with at least 167 out of the 195 member states of the UN. 29 countries have so far refused to recognise Israel, most of them being Muslim countries, including Pakistan. 

The foreign minister of Israel Eli Cohen sent shockwaves through diplomatic circles when he announced that six or seven Islamic countries were likely to recognise Israel after the recognition by Saudi Arabia by its potential inclusion in the American-brokered Abraham Accords by which the UAE, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco have already established diplomatic ties with the State of Israel. In another surprising diplomatic move, the tourism minister of Israel Haim Katz paid a two day visit to Saudi Arabia as head of a delegation to the UN World Tourism Organisation meeting in Riyadh, the Saudi capital. 

Since its birth in 1948 the controversial Jewish state has been in a relentless search for recognition and acceptance in the community of nations. Over this period, it has been at daggers drawn with its Arab neighbours and has fought three major wars in 1948, 1967 and 1973 and countless smaller skirmishes. Till 1991, a majority of the UN members had no diplomatic relations with Israel, but after the end of the Cold War in 1991 and the PLO-Israeli accord of September 1993, there was a paradigm shift which witnessed China and other countries granting legitimacy to Israel. Now, Israel wants its diplomatic legitimacy to come full circle by seeking recognition from all the Arab and Muslim countries.

The frontline states in the Arab-Israel conflict are Egypt, Syria Jordan and Lebanon. The first Arab State to recognise Israel was Egypt in 1979 after the signing of the Camp David Accord by the Egyptian president Anwar Sadat, which resulted in the reopening of the Suez Canal and the return of the Sinai territory to Egypt. This was followed by Jordan, who granted recognition to Israel in 1994. Turkey was the first Muslim country to recognise Israel – as early as 1949. 

Another important Muslim state, Indonesia, like Pakistan, has steadfastly refused to grant recognition to Israel until a peace agreement is signed between Israel and the state of Palestine. Indonesia has strongly stood up for the rights and freedoms of the Palestinians and has supported the struggles of the Palestinians. 

Recognition of Israel by Saudi Arabia will result in a major paradigm shift in granting recognition to the State of Israel and many Muslim countries sitting on the fence may join the rush to grant recognition to the Jewish state. The Abraham-1 accord was signed in 2020 through the efforts of US President Donald Trump and now with Saudi Arabia thinking of recognising Israel, there appears to be an Abraham-2 accord on the cards – one that might grant greater recognition and legitimacy to the Jewish state. Strategically, Israel wants legitimacy from the remaining Arab and Muslim states – without agreeing to establish an independent Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital.

Recognition of Israel by Pakistan has always been a very controversial subject. Truthfully, we do not have any ideological, political or territorial dispute with Israel. Our opposition is based on the premise that any enemy of my friends is my enemy. We oppose Israel in support of our Arab friends, many of whom have already recognised Israel. The question of recognition of Israel by Pakistan must be looked at from different angles: political, moral, legal and economic. 

We must keep in mind that the oppression of the Palestinians, the illegal settlements and the denial of basic human rights to the Palestinian refugees by Israel are solid and valid grounds to deny recognition unless and until a free Palestinian state is established and recognised by Israel. It is also true that recognition of Israel is the least of our problems. We have bigger fish to fry and no government can take the risk of such a move. 

Recognition of Israel will very likely weaken our case on Kashmir and spoil our relations with our Muslim neighbour Iran, because this move could be seen by that country as Pakistan joining the anti-Iranian forces in the Middle East. This move could be interpreted as an appeasement policy to benefit the Americans or the Saudis.

Saudi Prince Turki al-Faisal, speaking in Bahrain recently, called Israel a “Western colonising power,” giving one some reason to believe that perhaps Riyadh has not made up its mind on its own recognition of Israel yet. Surely, the final Saudi decision will have less to do with what Islamabad does than what happens in Washington and within the region. Pakistan is no longer seen by Israel as a threat of any sort - nor its support to the Palestinians.

The only lever that could move the needle for the Palestinians used to be Washington DC and it has long abandoned them. One can argue that immense harm was also done to the Palestinian cause by former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad with his speeches against Israel and nuclear program that changed the dimensions of the Israeli-Palestinian question. The Israeli leadership was clever enough to turn Iran into a burning issue, and turn it into a question of US security. This deft diplomatic strategy made Iran a burning issue in the Middle East. 

Whatever transpires in the near future, as of today, Israel after its diplomatic coups in the Arab world is in a very comfortable position – and any decision that Pakistan makes is unlikely to factor majorly in its calculations.