Why Anti-Israel Rhetoric Keeps Resurfacing In Pakistan Despite Imran Khan Ruling Out Ties With Jewish State?

Pakistan is witnessing a wide-scale anti-Israel movement led by Maulana Fazlur Rehman of the Jamiat Ulema-e Islam (Fazl), a right-wing Islamist party, which opposes the normalization of ties with the Jewish nation. The Imran Khan government has already ruled out the possibility of establishing relations with Israel. 

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Addressing the JUI-F’s ‘Million March’ in Karachi, Rehman made it clear that Pakistan should not normalize ties with Israel. He said he wanted to send a message to the “Palestinian brothers” that the nation would stand by them “till the last drop of blood”.

He urged the United States to withdraw its statement on opening an embassy in Jerusalem and the US President should play a role for the Palestinians and Kashmiris. Warning the authorities of repercussions of any such move, Maulana said:

“The people of Pakistan have different relations with the people of Palestine. They live in each other’s hearts. The people of Pakistan would not accept any logic or reason for any such move. In these circumstances, if any step is taken, it would weaken Pakistan and destabilize the nation.”

The Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) – a 10-party opposition alliance seeking to oust the Imran Khan government – is also supporting the JUI-F against recognizing Israel. While the issue of recognizing Israel is a foreign policy matter, analysts believe that the opposition is now using anything and everything to attack the government.

Condemning the opposition’s stance on Israel, experts have said that the PDM, which has been holding rallies against the government for the past few months, has failed to draw attention and is using religious cards in an attempt to topple the government.

A Complex Foreign Policy Issue

Prime Minister Imran Khan and other senior officials have been denying that Pakistan will not establish any ties with Israel. Following the signing of the Abraham Accord and Israel’s deals with the UAE and Bahrain, there were indications that Islamabad too might be coming under pressure to recognize Israel.

Recently government sources told Haartz: “Riyadh has been arm-twisting Islamabad for months because Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman wants to ‘normalize normalization,’ before Saudi Arabia makes a formal move towards Israel.”

But a statement from the Pakistan Foreign Office had said: “The Prime Minister has made it clear that unless a just settlement of the Palestine issue, satisfactory to the Palestinian people, is found, Pakistan cannot recognize Israel.”

But why Islamabad wouldn’t normalize ties with Israel, when its allies in the Gulf and Saudi Arabia are moving towards building relations with the Jewish state? Experts argue that ties between Israel and Pakistan in near future are unlikely due to domestic constraints and Islamabad’s unclear foreign policy.

Israel would welcome any approach by a Muslim country like Pakistan and expects Muslim countries to not link disagreements regarding progress on the Palestinian question. However, Islamabad demands “a just settlement” to the Palestinian issue before a change in policy towards the Jewish state can be considered.

Other factors hindering the development of Israel-Pakistan relations are closeness between Islamabad and Tehran, which is against the existence of Israel. Pakistan’s closeness with Turkey, which wants to emerge as a leader in the Muslim world, also raises security concerns in Jerusalem, as per professor Efraim Inbar, president of the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security.

Unsubstantiated Rumors?  

Even though Pakistan’s policy towards Israel seems clear, then why the rumors of the development of ties between the two countries keep emerging? There may be a chance that Pakistan wants to normalize the ties, the experts say.

Since Pakistan’s enmity towards Israel is of no real advantage, some recent reports have revealed that Islamabad has not been quite clear if “it wants to be friends with Israel or oppose it under an illusory policy of protecting the Muslim ummah’s global interests”.

Reports have suggested that Pakistani leadership has covertly attempted to explore options to normalize ties. A Pakistani cleric recently claimed that former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had sent a delegation of Muslim scholars, including him, to Israel.

Former Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam leader Maulana Ajmal Qadri said he had met senior officials of the Israeli foreign ministry and cabinet members during his visit. He said: “The people of the foreign ministry wanted to know whether Pakistan could develop relations with Israel or not.”

Reports suggest Nawaz Sharif sent two delegations to Israel to normalize relations and Benazir Bhutto had also sent a delegation to Israel.

Ironically, the leaders who claim to have sent delegations to Israel, their parties are taking out an anti-Israel rally in Pakistan. For that matter, in December, a member of the JUI-F Muhammad Khan Sherani said that he supports the normalization of ties with Israel. He was removed from the party.

Umair Jamal, a journalist from Lahore, writes for The Diplomat that these revelations harm “Sharif and Rehman’s legitimacy in assailing the government for exploring options to normalize ties with Israel”. At the same time, it tests public opinion in long run.

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