The expeditious pace at which the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Israel pursued normalization left the people of Pakistan in a state of utter astonishment. The vast majority of Pakistanis firmly believe that the establishment of diplomatic ties between the UAE and Israel was made possible by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s implied approval of the Abraham Accords. Many people believe that the former prime minister of Pakistan was hand-picked for the position, and he has admitted that he has faced significant pressure to recognize Israel.
Similarly, Pervez Musharraf, the former president of Pakistan, advocated in July 2003 for a national discussion on the viability of establishing diplomatic ties with Israel, speculating that such a discussion might serve as a counterbalance to Pakistan’s antagonistic relationship with India. However, it should be noted that any attempt by Pakistan to normalize relations with Israel would inevitably require overcoming a number of formidable challenges, such as divisions within the military, opposition from political rivals, and hostile rhetoric from Islamic clerics.
Although, since its inception, Pakistan’s identity as a Muslim nation founded on Islamic principles has influenced its foreign policy. Islamist unity has been a cornerstone of Pakistan’s foreign policy, especially in its relations with the Middle East. In international forums, Pakistan has consistently and unwaveringly supported Arab positions in the hopes of receiving similar support from Muslim and Arab nations in their ongoing disputes with India over Kashmir and other issues.
However, Pakistan has an opportunity to reevaluate its own policy toward the Jewish state as countries in the Gulf region begin to normalize their diplomatic relations with Israel. The acknowledgment from nations like Bahrain, the UAE, and Morocco, as well as Saudi Arabia’s covert talks with Israel, may encourage Islamabad to present its case for recognition of Israel to a skeptical domestic audience. Any change in Pakistan’s foreign policy toward Israel, though, is certain to face vehement opposition from the country’s conservative and religious groups.
Manifestly, strategically, and diplomatically, there appears to be no tangible downside to the act of acknowledging Israel. The predicament lies primarily in the realm of ideology and politics. Israel, much like India, is an ideological blind spot for Pakistan. By instilling hatred in its people towards India and Israel and branding them as ‘Yahood-o-Hanood’ (Jewish and Hindu), arch-enemies who are constantly plotting against ‘Mumlikat-e-Khudadad’ (God-gifted state), Pakistan has, in fact, maneuvered itself into a deadlock.
In light of this, any type of reconsideration has turned into a political flashpoint, not just among politicians, but also within the military establishment. If the government even takes a small step toward recognizing Israel, the opposition will splinter it. A warpath has been threatened, and the clerics have also spoken out against recognizing Israel.
Pakistan’s steadfast refusal to recognize Israel until a peaceful resolution of the Palestinian conflict and the establishment of an independent state has yielded little progress for the Palestinian cause over the years. Despite Pakistan’s steadfast refusal to recognize Israel, which provides a moral impetus for the advancement of a Palestinian state, particularly as the only nuclear power in the Islamic world, this policy has not led to positive results for either Palestine or Pakistan. Although the idea of establishing diplomatic ties with Israel is no longer regarded as forbidden in Pakistan, attitudes toward Israel there are still largely unfavorable.
Meanwhile, some have argued that accepting Israel’s legitimacy would not be a problem if it resulted in a solution to the Palestine problem, which might help Islamabad win diplomatic support in international forums. India and sporadically the India-Israel alliance, are frequently blamed for terrorist attacks, security lapses, and intelligence gaffes in Pakistan.
Moreover, given that Israel will not approach its relations with Pakistan in a zero-sum manner relative to its relations with India, this argument is overly simplistic and disconnected from the realities on the ground. This idea is somewhat comparable to the claim that by diplomatically engaging with Russia, Pakistan will diversify its defense allies. Russia did not sever its long-standing security and diplomatic ties with Delhi to favor Pakistan, despite Islamabad developing cordial relations with Moscow over the years. In fact, Delhi is a much larger market for Tel Aviv than Islamabad in the context of shifting geopolitics in the Middle East and both have more in common.
Last but not least, Pakistan is firmly rooted in outdated ideals and ignores the fact that the Muslim world has lost interest in using its collective influence to address the Palestine issue, despite the volatile and rapidly changing political environment. In fact, it has turned out that the very idea that the Muslim world, propelled by a sense of Islamic solidarity, could force Washington and Tel Aviv to cede political ground regarding Palestine was simply a fantasy.