EDITORIAL: First things first, Israel's foreign minister Yair Lapid, inaugurated his country's embassy in Abu Dhabi, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) yesterday, saying, among other things, that "Israel wants peace with its neighbours - with all its neighbours. We aren't going anywhere. The Middle East is our home. We're here to stay. We call on all the countries of the region to recognise that and to come to talk to us." It is also important to note that Lapid's plane transited through Saudi airspace. Riyadh, although not having normalized relations with Israel, last year opened its skies to Israel-UAE flights.

Both the Foreign Office and PM's aide Zulfi Bukhari have denied Israeli media reports that say he secretly visited the Zionist state in November last year and met senior officials in the foreign ministry and Israeli intelligence agency. Israel Hayom, an Israeli national Hebrew-language newspaper, claims the visit took place 'under heavy pressure' from the government of the UAE. The newspaper derives strength from reported landing of a foreign aircraft at Nur Khan air base in Rawalpindi last year. Then too the Pakistani authorities had stoutly rejected the purported travel by Bukhari to Tel Aviv. If the said report has surprised the man on the street it gave a handle to Pakistan People's Party (PPP) Chairman Bilawal Bhutto to lambast the government: "This information should come before the nation now. We have concerns regarding what is done in the darkness of the night. If the plane did not pick up Zulfi Bukhari then who did it pick up?"

During General Pervez Musharraf's rule, his foreign minister Khursheed Mehmud Kasuri openly admitted on the floor of the National Assembly his meeting with his Israeli counterpart Silvan Shalom. The meeting took place in Istanbul but nothing Byzantine about it. After much chitchat and laughter at dinner the night before the two met for over two hours under full media glare and discussed everything under the sun. It took 18 years to make up your mind to speak to us, Shalom complained. But we have met and that's great, Kasuri must have responded. Such a chance meeting or event had been on the cards ever since countries Pakistan and Israel, which are widely considered as ideological twins, came into existence. But the then President, Rafiq Tarar, had predicted it with some prophetic assertion. In 1998, according to Israeli media, he met with his Israeli counterpart Ezer Weizman in Ankara where both were guests at the 75th Independence ceremony of modern Turkey. Tarar approached Weizman and shook his hand. "I have heard a great deal about you as a man of peace," he told the Israeli leader and expressed hope that "one day we will meet again".

Even before then there had been scores of direct and indirect contacts between the leaders and officials of the two countries, but these were clandestine and never admitted. The Quaid-e-Azam had declared the creation of Israel a crime. The then foreign minister, Sir Zafarullah Khan, described the Zionist state as "a limb in the body of the Middle East". Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, too, vehemently opposed Israel, but the then president General Ziaul Haq, who had earlier carried out the Black September massacre in support of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, discovered some "commonalities" between Pakistan and Israel. According to him, "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." The then ambassador to the US, Syeda Abida Hussain, had found during the PML-N rule nothing wrong in tying up with Tel Aviv. Insofar as the private sector of the two countries are concerned, contacts have been substantial.

Unquestionably, the foreign policy of a state is, and should be, governed by the national interest. The obtaining geopolitical and geostrategic situation in the Gulf region and hopes for commercial boons appear to have motivated the sheikhdoms to recognise Israel and establish diplomatic relations with it. It is not that the UAE and other Arab states have compromised their demand for the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. According to the UAE, for example, the UAE-Israel normalization will not come at the expense of the Palestinian cause as the UAE is committed to the creation of a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital. To conclude, the policymakers and intelligentsia in Pakistan must give a serious thought to the question of statecraft in the best interest of the State of Pakistan.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021

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