By Saleem Safi
August 25, 2020
After Makkah and Medina, Jerusalem is the holiest place on earth for Muslims all over the world. There is no Muslim who has no respect for Masjid al-Haram in Makkah, Masjid al-Nabawi in Medina and Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem – the first Qibla for Muslims.
Jerusalem is under the direct occupation of the Jewish state of Israel since 1948. It is the duty of every Muslim to strive for its liberation as per his/her capacities and abilities. However, the Holy Quran informs us that “Allah does not charge a soul except [with that within] its capacity”. Allah and His last Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) has taught us wisdom and sagacity. Islam does not teach to close one’s eyes and hit a wall. Instead, it asks us to understand ground realities, take wise steps and move forward tactfully. So, let's see the ground realities about Palestine, Israel and relations with the Muslim world.
Though very painful for Muslims, it is a glaring reality that 162 countries of the world, including the US, China, France, Germany and Russia, have recognized Israel and have established close diplomatic relations with her. The US – the world superpower – has become Israel’s patron-in-chief. However, Muslim countries like Pakistan, Algeria, Bahrain, Cambridge, Djibouti, Iraq, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, Yemen, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Brunei, Iran, Malaysia, Indonesia, Mali, Niger do not accept Israel as a legitimate state and thus do not recognize it. Three non-Muslim countries – Bhutan, Cuba and North Korea – also do not recognize Israel.
It is also a reality that Turkey was the first Muslim country that recognized Israel in 1949. Iran became the second Muslim country to establish diplomatic relations and close cooperation with Israel in 1950. However, after Imam Khomeini's revolution in 1979, the Israel-Iran friendship turned into animosity. But Turkey's diplomatic relations with Israel remained intact and friendly even after Recip Tayyip Erdogan became prime minister. In 2005, Erdogan visited Israel along with a large group of businessmen, met then Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon, laid a wreath at the Holocaust memorial and called Iran’s nuclear ambitions a threat not just to Israel but to the entire world. To reciprocate, Ariel Sharon visited Turkey in 2007 and got the honour to address the Turkish Grand National Assembly.
However, relations deteriorated between Turkey and Israel after the Gaza Flotilla raid by Israeli forces in 2010, and remained strained for few years. Diplomatic relations between the two countries normalized in 2016 as a result of secret meetings. Though Turkey threatened to end diplomatic relations with Israel when the US recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in 2017, so far Turkey’s diplomatic relations with Israel are intact.
In the past, Turkey also tried to mediate between Palestine and Israel. Even meetings between the then Pakistani foreign minister Khurshid Mahmoud Kasuri and Israeli officials during the Musharraf era were held as per the wishes and mediation of the Turkish leadership.
Besides Turkey and Iran, Egypt, an Arab country, established diplomatic relations with Israel in 1980 after the Camp David Accords. Though Oman – a member of the Arab League – has no formal diplomatic relations with Israel, close cooperation and trade links have been established between the two. Moreover, the Central Asian Muslim states such as Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Azerbaijan have also established friendly diplomatic relations with Israel. With the mediation of President Bill Clinton, Jordon signed an agreement with Israel in 1994, paving the way to close trade ties and opening of several crossing points at border for tourists. Syria and Lebanon are two neighbouring countries with which Israel now has strained relations. But these two Muslim countries have fallen into internal chaos and civil war and are thus unable to pose any threat to Israel. However, Qatar is the only country in the Arab world that has very strained relations with Israel.
It is also a fact that, in the past, the Palestinians' struggle for independence against Israeli occupation was led by the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and Hamas under the patronage of Saudi Arabia. Iran – a historical foe of Saudi Arabia – was sponsoring Hezbollah and the Syrian government.
There was a time when Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) as well as Iran considered Israel their enemy number one. But unfortunately, instead of struggling against the common enemy for the peaceful resolution of the Palestine issue, Iran and Saudi Arabia started a race for regional superiority and hegemony through proxies. Now Saudi Arabia sees Iran as a greater threat to its regional hegemony and interests than Israel.
On the other hand, after 9/11, the situation in the Arab world, like the rest of the world, changed radically. Extremist organizations like Al-Qaeda and ISIS have become a threat to Arab governments. Moreover, the Arab Spring shook Arab rulers and caused a great sense of insecurity among them. So, Saudi Arabia and its close allies gave up Hamas’ patronage and left it alone. The void was soon filled by Iran and Qatar.
Moreover, Turkey under the leadership of Tayyip Erdogan has come in direct competition with Saudi Arabia and the UAE with a strong historic desire of leading the Muslim world once again.
In this context, the US has also put pressure on Arab countries in the Middle East to improve relations with Israel. Thus, due to pressure by the US and animosity with Iran and Turkey, Saudi Arabia and UAE etc have decided to reduce their hostility with Israel. The UAE starting diplomatic relations with Israel via mediation by the US seems the first step of the strategic policy shift in the Arab world.
It is also a reality that national interests are the guiding force of every state’s foreign policy, relations and engagement. So one could question why some, especially some religious parties, in Pakistan are putting the country in an unenviable position of being seen as hostile by the UAE, by blasting the latter country’s decision to establish diplomatic relations with Israel?
Pakistan is facing one of the worst economic crises in its history. Islamabad needs friends not foe in this critical time.
Pakistan itself should never give up its principal stance on Palestine and should never recognize Israel as per the wishes of most Pakistanis. That is our sovereign decision and right. But what is the justification of our anger at the independent decision of other sovereign states? Will we also protest against Turkey and China tomorrow because these two countries also have diplomatic relations with Israel? Will we now also protest against Iran for its close relations with India?
At this critical stage, we should be concerned about our country own challenges. It is not a wise approach by our religious parties to be angry at the UAE for its independent decision at this critical juncture when Saudi Arabia has already been offended by the government.
Saleem Safi works for Geo TV.
Original Headline: Israel, Pakistan and the Muslim World
Source: The News, Pakistan