By Aisha Saeed
As the world sat down together at the United Nations headquarters to discuss and vote on USA’s decision to move its embassy to the city of Jerusalem, there was a silent spectator among the crowd. Days later, President Netanyahu made a historic but scheduled visit to India where while being interviewed by the Indian media, Pakistan was brought up. India fosters a comfortable relationship with Israel, along with strong economic ties; India is also one of the major importers of Israeli military equipment in the region. The bilateral visit made international headlines, more so in Pakistan after Netanyahu aced a question on Pakistan with a diplomatic statement, insisting that Israel was not the enemy of Pakistan, nor should Pakistan be Israel’s enemy.
The signal has sparked a debate among the long standing proponents of the idea that Pakistan should revisit its foreign policy towards Israel and establish diplomatic ties with the country. Officially, there has been no response to the statements made by President Netanyahu about Pakistan but the odds in future for an open bilateral relation yet alone the recognition of the state of Israel, seem as dim as the present policy.
However, off the record, Pakistan and Israel maintain the minimum level of communication that could exist between two distant states. The intelligence agencies of both the countries have been reported to communicate off and on in the past and perhaps do so even now. Overseas interactions between diplomats and other governmental officials of the two countries have also been reported over a span of years. Pakistan’s former President Pervez Musharraf was the last governmental figure to show interest in renewing the country’s ties with Israel, although till date, no other senior official has made a similar statement on the matter.
Much of Pakistan’s foreign policy is planned on short term bases, the national and regional interests or the need of the hour. Despite the comments made by former President Musharraf, he is often blamed for putting Pakistan at the disposal of America’s war against terrorism. Also, with increasing terrorist attacks inside Pakistan, a move to recognize Israel would have had severe and more hostile implications.
Pakistan’s lack of forging long term foreign policy objectives has remained a hindrance in giving a diplomatic edge to the country at numerous occasions. Over the past years, Pakistan’s foreign policy has been determined and preferred by the personal inclinations of the leaders, for whom Israel never came across as an option or ally. Secondly, the regional issues requiring Pakistan’s utmost attention never involved Israel. With the reemergence of terrorists groups in Afghanistan like ISIS, Pakistan would once again be inviting attacks if it were to openly declare and establish its ties with Israel. Pakistan under its obligation of the international law, the OIC membership and on humanitarian grounds will likely continue to support the cause of the Palestinian people which, however, has been put on a review after it called backed its ambassador to Pakistan over Indian objections.
On the other hand, Israel strongly backs India’s claim that Pakistan supports the insurgents in Kashmir and is responsible for the attacks in India along with the US claims of Pakistan providing safe havens to terror groups. The military deal signed between India and Israel is also a matter of concern for Pakistan and adds to the surge of advanced arms race in the region. The skepticism on behalf of Pakistan is as true as it is on Israel’s side.
The aforementioned statement by President Netanyahu was not an invitational gesture towards Pakistan, but rather an indirect warning to Pakistan over its vocal stance at the United Nations and perhaps a grim reminder of the attempt made by Israel to attack Pakistan’s nuclear installations; a claim it denies till date. The notion that Pakistan’s outdated post Arab-Israel war policy is shuddering Islamabad from approaching Israel does not negate in the urgency to upgrade its foreign policy which is likely not to bear the fruits of cooperation other than what already exists.
States pursue foreign policy based on different interests that strengthen their geopolitical image and addresses any concerns be it security or economic. Currently for Pakistan, these concerns are best met economically by China, in terms of security with Russia and the US. This otherwise seemingly simple bilateral relationship between Pakistan and Israel is made cold when other factors are placed in the context for understanding. Like Pakistan, Israel might have expressed having diplomatic terms with Pakistan in the past, but it is not as eager as many in Pakistan hope. Despite the two being the only “ideological” states in the world, the ideas on how their foreign policy is formed are completely on the opposite spectrums. Pakistan cannot yield much from being aligned with Israel not until its relationship with the US cools down nor will Israel be willing to risk making this move after the US announcement of moving its embassy to Jerusalem in the coming year.
However, with the elections around the corner in Pakistan, there are chances of Pakistan rethinking its foreign policy options in the future. However the implantation of the policy, particularly with the state of Israel, will still be a sensitive one and might take years to come but will certainly not be a compulsory or urgent tasking at hand.
Aisha Saeed is an independent media and foreign policy analyst based in Lahore. She tweets @MsAishaK