Interview

‘This has brought Israel closer to realizing its ambition of a Jewish homeland.’

– Najmuddin Shaikh,
former Pakistan Foreign Secretary

October 2020

interview-najmuddinWhat is your opinion of recent developments regarding recognition of Israel by certain Arab countries?
This was not an entirely unexpected development. The GCC countries had been moving in this direction for some time with discreet and acknowledged contacts being established over the years. There is no doubt, however, that the Trump Administration’s actions viz. recognizing Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights, the moving of the Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and acknowledging Israel’s right to annex Israeli settlements in the West Bank became a catalyst for further steps between the GCC and Israel.

Is the Palestinian cause still as important to the Arabs?
I think it has been established that this cause has now lost its impact. There are voices among the Palestinians in the West Bank and in Israel suggesting that they should accept Israel and look for equal rights for Palestinians in the state of Israel rather than pursuing a two-state solution based on negotiating changes in the 1967 borders. How far this will go is difficult to say because in my view Israel’s leaders wish to have the whole of Judea and Samaria as a wholly Jewish State for the Jews now in Israel and those who will migrate to Israel in the future from Europe and elsewhere. Now the question is going to be whether the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan will alone become the home of the Palestinians.

Where do you place Pakistan in all this?
Pakistan does not have an important role to play in this. Like Turkey, Pakistan too may point out that this is contrary to all principles of justice and fair play but as Prime Minister Imran Khan has said, Arab countries make their own policies based on their perception of national interest. As Pakistan’s economic picture improves and as we become more attractive as trading and economic collaboration partners for the world, our voice will be better heard along with that of other non-Arab Muslim countries.

Will this turn out to be beneficial for the Arab world in the long-run?
The Arab world is not united. Both Kuwait and Qatar had differences with Saudi Arabia and the UAE with regard to its attitude towards Iran. We too have worked for better Iran-GCC relations but, for now, apprehensions about Iran, bolstered by the US campaign against Iran, dominate policy-making in the area. We should, however, bear in mind that the UAE is carrying on a dialogue with Iran about the three islands that are in Iran’s possession and which the UAE claims. This conversation obviously goes beyond the islands and tries to seek a modus vivendi. How far this will succeed is open to question.

Do these developments open doors for Israel to expand its territories in the region?
This has brought Israel closer to realizing its ambition of a Jewish homeland that extends to the entire West Bank, excluding East Jerusalem and perhaps Gaza.