The policy on Israel

My following article is published in Dawn, Pakistan’s leading English-language newspaper:

During this year’s US presidential campaign, both Republican nominee John McCain and Democratic contender Barack Obama expressed unwavering support for Israel.

It was the only country in the world that required constant loyalty tests. Obama told the leading Zionist lobby, AIPAC, that he would “bring to the White House an unshakeable commitment to Israel’s security”. Palestinians were understandably upset when he argued that “Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel, and it must remain undivided.” Such sentiments invalidate the possibility of a two-state solution, the road map long endorsed by the western world.

In February, Obama made the only comment in this year that could be construed as critical of the Zionist diaspora. “I think there is a strain within the pro-Israel community that says unless you adopt an unwavering pro-Likud approach to Israel”, he said, “then you’re anti-Israel, and that can’t be the measure of our friendship with Israel.”

In other words, the best friends of Israel, indeed any nation, are ones that offer both praise and anger. Unsurprisingly, the Jewish establishment reacted with fury to the statement, incensed that anybody would dare challenge Israel’s policies, such as its ever-expanding, illegal occupation of the West Bank, strangulation of Gaza and imprisonment of thousands of Palestinians without charge.

President Obama therefore presents a unique chance to re-frame the conflict, though the initial signs are less than promising. The appointment of Hillary Clinton as secretary of state and James L. Jones as national security adviser — the latter described by The Nation commentator Robert Dreyfuss as a “proverbial hammer in search of nails” — suggests a business as usual approach.

Will any global power dare tell the Jewish state — whose behaviour in Gaza was recently slammed by the United Nations as a “continuing flagrant and massive violation of international humanitarian law” — that its current behaviour is unacceptable to civilised nations?

The role of other international players will be essential. India and Pakistan should play their parts and engage both the Israelis and Palestinians. Each country brings a unique perspective to the negotiating table and necessarily challenges the blatantly one-sided partisanship of Washington and much of the European Union during the last eight years of the Bush era. At the end of this period, with Afghanistan and Iraq still in flames, Israel remains more isolated than ever before, thanks to resurgent Arab nationalism, led by Hizbollah, and Iranian ascendance.

Pakistan officially first engaged with Israel in 2005, despite robust opposition from hardliners. Following the Jewish state’s ”˜withdrawal’ from Gaza, Pakistan’s then foreign minister Khurshid Kasuri said that, “We see this development as the beginning of the process of [ending] Israeli occupation and establishing a Palestinian state living side by side with Israel in peace and security.” Israel’s then foreign minister Silvan Shalom expressed optimism that the Muslim state’s moves would lead to “a full diplomatic relationship with Pakistan as we would like it with all Muslim and Arab countries.”

The last three years have solely led to expanded Israeli occupation on Palestinian land and growing frustration with Israel’s intransigence. Former Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf said that his country would only fully recognise Israel when an independent Palestinian state was established.

“Pakistan is like Israel, an ideological state,” said Pakistan’s former dictator Ziaul Haq in 1981. “Take out the Judaism from Israel and it will fall like a house of cards. Take Islam out of Pakistan and make it a secular state; it would collapse.”

In the coming years, does Pakistan want to become friendlier with Israel to deepen its relationship with Obama or distance itself from a country that oppresses Palestinians on a daily basis?

The most likely scenario, assuming a relatively pro-western government remains in Islamabad, is a Pakistani elite that expresses occasional diplomatic solidarity with another nation fighting its own ”˜war on terror’. Realpolitik is likely to win the day, not least because of India’s growing strategic partnership with Israel and weapons deals between the two countries. Pakistan fears its rival’s edge.

From Israel’s perspective, Pakistani recognition would be a coup — Turkey is one of the few Muslim states that recognise its existence — and could lead to Malaysia, Indonesia and Bangladesh following suit. Furthermore, Pakistan remains the Muslim world’s only known nuclear power and Israel has long worried about this technology being transferred to its enemies. An alliance may lessen this risk.

But Pakistan should think very carefully before giving Israel what it craves. The vast bulk of the Muslim world regards Israel’s 41-year occupation of Palestinian territory as a crime against humanity and would not look kindly on Islamabad ignoring this reality. The Bush doctrine is hopefully dead and Obama may bring some greater pragmatism to the international arena. Pakistan would be unwise to show solidarity with the Jewish state at a time when virtually every country in the United Nations consistently votes against its policies.

India, that formed diplomatic relations with Israel in 1992, remains tightly bound to the Jewish state. It even launched an Israeli spy satellite in January this year, primarily to monitor Iranian soil. The Indian secretary of defence Vijay Singh visited Israel recently and a senior Israeli security official told the Haaretz newspaper that “our security cooperation with the Indians is excellent — there is simply no other way to put it.”

Cooperation against ”˜Islamic terrorism’ and the possible dissolution of Pakistan were also discussed. Relations between India and Israel tend to improve during periods of tension between New Delhi and Islamabad, so the period after the Mumbai terror attacks is proving to be lucrative for both sides.

Equally important, from Israel’s point of view, is the realisation that America’s influence in the world is declining and making friends in other regions is important for its long-term viability. India is the world’s largest democracy and a large market for its missiles and unmanned aerial vehicles.

The beginning of the Obama administration presents opportunities for a rejection of years of failed policies towards the Jewish state, but caution is urged. For example, the new president has spoken of challenging Iran’s suspected nuclear programme and will be looking for partners in this mission.

Pakistan and India, states that both commit their fair share of human rights abuses, should think carefully before fully embracing the racially exclusionary Jewish nation.

Strategic partnerships only make short-term sense. Israel’s survival is challenged by fundamentalist settlers in the West Bank and soaring Palestinian birth rates and is unsustainable as a western colonial outpost.Justice is not on its side.

The writer is a Sydney-based journalist and author.

Text and images ©2023 Antony Loewenstein. All rights reserved.

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