Pakistan’s pro-Israel lobby seems unfazed by the Imran Khan government’s persistent denials about Islamabad establishing relations with the Jewish state. The ruling party’s firefighting against such speculation has only resulted in more voices calling for closer ties with Israel.
Pakistan foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi after returning from his Dubai trip recently put an end to the speculation by emphatically denying any plans of talks with Israel, saying such a move is conditioned upon a permanent resolution to the Palestine issue.
“I categorically presented Pakistan’s stance on Israel to the UAE’s foreign minister that we will not and cannot establish a relationship with Israel until a concrete and permanent solution to the Palestine issue is found,” Qureshi said after his trip to the Gulf nation.
His statement was echoed by Israel’s regional cooperation minister Ofir Akunis, who said that Pakistan was not among the countries with which his country may have ties.
That has not helped stop the rumors. There is even speculation of Israeli jets landing in Islamabad and secret meetings taking place in Tel Aviv. The speculations are primarily fed by some Pakistani journalists appearing on Israeli TV besides some prominent ulema (religious scholars).
One such prominent scholar Maulana Mohammad Khan Sherani created a storm in Pakistan when he openly advocated for initiating diplomatic ties with the Jewish state.
A video shared by a social media user quoted him as saying: “I am in favor of accepting Israel because accepting Israel isn’t a religious but a political and international issue.” He quoted from the Quran to support his argument while criticizing his own party leader, Maulana Fazlur Rehman.
اسرائیل کو تسلیم کرنا ایک بین الاقوامی مسلہ ہے میں اس حق میں ہوں کہ اسرائیل کو تسلیم کیا جائے ۔ مولانا شیرانی pic.twitter.com/8h0F6Hiojz
— Tahir Ali (@TahirJourno) December 20, 2020
Sherani was expelled from the party after his controversial remarks and direct attacks against party leader Maulana Fazlur Rehman. He had once created controversy by advocating ‘gentle beating of wives”.
Another well-known pro-Israel ambassador, Noor Dahri, shared morphed pictures of the alleged meeting between Pakistani and Israeli officials in Tel Aviv. He accused PM Imran Khan of sending a secret delegation to Israel to initiate diplomatic relations with the country.
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It was a morning of the last week of Nov 20 at around 8am, a British Airways flight ??0165 flew from London Heathrow airport to Tel Aviv. The person who booked a business class, travelled from Pak. pic.twitter.com/nbtGLXuJub
— Noor Dahri (@dahrinoor2) December 15, 2020
“My sources informed me that Pakistan wanted a support of Israel to halt down the current cold situation with the Arab countries as well as to support her in many international issues such as FATF as well as Indian lobbying against Pakistan,” he tweeted.
Maulana Tahir Ashrafi, one more prominent religious figure in Pakistan also indicated to Israeli TV that the normalization wasn’t so bad after all, although back home, he denied his country had any interest in taking such a step.
What added fuel to the fire was the confession by a Pakistani cleric Maulana Ajmal Qadri when he claimed he had actually visited Israel in 1988, acting under the directions of then-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to ‘test the waters’ for a potential normalization in relations between the two countries. “It was kind of a study tour,” the former Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam leader told Pakistan’s SAMAA TV.
“Mian sahib (Nawaz Sharif) was very passionate. But the political situation made the affairs go to the background,” he was quoted as saying by SAMAA TV.
Qadri’s statement has given an opportunity to the ruling party to deflect the blame on their predecessors, while vehemently denying that they are in favor of any kind of normalization in relations with Israel.
Experts say that while it was possible in the autocratic Gulf countries with no freedom of expression to recognize Israel without any public outcry, the same cannot be said about Pakistan.
Historically, there is a sentiment within Pakistan against the establishment of any kind of connections with the Jewish state, which they claim is responsible for the persecution of Palestinians and for evicting them from their own land. The people advocating for peace with Israel are being called traitors in the country.
There is less chance, however, that Pakistan will take any such step since the country has already severed its relations with the US-led bloc and turned to China for all its needs.
Israel, therefore, holds less relevance for Imran Khan and considering the public opinion at home is heavily against normalizing relations with Israel and will possibly destabilize the government, any kind of relationship with the Jewish state is out of the question.