If you thought there was no way to top the news about the normalization of ties between Israel and four Arab states – the U.A.E., Bahrain, Sudan, and Morocco – well, this just in from Pakistan may do it: a leading political and religious figure in the country has just announced that Israel belongs solely to the Jews. It was never meant for the “Palestinians.” The amazing report is here: “Pakistani cleric: We should recognize Israel,” by Dean Shmuel Elmas, Israel Hayom, December 20, 2020:
Pakistani political and religious leader Maulana Muhammad Khan Sherani announced Saturday, Dec. 20, at a conference, that he supports the normalization of his country with Israel, according to a report by British-Pakistani writer Noor Dahri.
“This is an international issue, I support recognition of Israel,” Sherani said. “Educated Muslims need to understand that the Quran and history prove to us that the Land of Israel belongs only to the Jews. King David built the house of God in Jerusalem for the Israelis and not for the Palestinians.”
The honorific “Maulana” means that Sherani is a learned Muslim cleric. He is also a formidable figure in Pakistani politics, having served in Pakistan’s National Assembly from 1988 to 2018, save from 1999-2002, and from 2007 to 2013. In other words, he’s served at the national level for more than 20 years. But he’s never made such a remarkable statement, recognizing that “the Land of Israel belongs to the Jews”: It is “not for the Palestinians.”
One cannot help but wonder if this declaration was sua sponte, an expression of Maulana Muhammad Khan Sherani’s deeply held beliefs, uttered without consulting anyone else, and expressing his desire to push forward the case for Pakistan to normalize ties with the Jewish state. Of course, other Muslim states have normalized relations with Israel, but all of them took care to formulaicly express their hope for the establishment of a Palestinian state. This Pakistani cleric has in breathtaking fashion stated uncompromisingly the case for the Jewish claim to the Land of Israel that the ghost of Zev Jabotinsky could not have bettered.
And the timing was right: Sherani, like tens of millions of other Pakistanis, had just seen a fourth, Arab state, Morocco, agree to normalize ties with Israel. After all, the U.A.E., Bahrain, and Sudan had done so, previously, without the sky falling, or riots in the streets, though there was the expected spittle-flecked fury from the raging rais in Ramallah. And each state had been rewarded by Washington and Jerusalem in tangible and important ways. Washington has agreed to the sale of F-35s for the Emirates, has removed the Sudan from a list of terrorist supporters to be sanctioned, and has recognized the sovereignty of Morocco over the contested Western Sahara.
Meanwhile, Israel has been pulling out all the stops to reward its new Arab interlocutors. Israeli investors and entrepreneurs have already been making dozens of deals with the Emiratis on trade, technology, and tourism; Emirati and Bahraini businessmen have at the same time been scouting for investment opportunities in Israel, while Israelis are doing the same in the U.A.E. and Bahrain. The Jewish state has promised to help the Sudanese agricultural sector, especially in such fields as drip irrigation, desalination, wastewater management, and producing water from air. It has been discussing the sharing of defense technology with the Emirates. There is a suggestion that the nearly one million Israelis with a connection to Morocco, as descendants of Moroccan Jews, could serve as guides and conduits for Israeli investments in that country. Sherani chose to declare his views at a moment when the prospects for normalization of ties between Israel and Arab (and Muslim) states has never been more promising.
It may also be that Sherani had some discussion with the office of Prime Minister Imran Khan about the remarks about Israel he intended to make. Perhaps Sherani was encouraged to publicly state his views on Israel as a trial balloon, to see how the Pakistani public reacted. If it reacts badly, if threats are made against him, that may put the kibosh on any attempt by Prime Minister Imran Khan to continue the covert talks with Israelis about the possibility of normalizing ties with Israel, that for months have been reported, and for months Khan has denied were taking place. But if this respected Muslim leader – whose entire education has been in madrasas, not secular schools — is not sent to Coventry by his colleagues, political or religious, nor his effigy burned by a Pakistani mob, his statement may embolden the Prime Minister to continue these talks.
After all, Imran Khan can hardly be unaware of the benefits accruing to Pakistan if It normalizes ties with Israel. First, his country would gain points with the Biden Administration, which might translate into more financial aid, which Pakistan desperately needs. Second, and much more important, normalization of ties would please the Saudi Crown Prince, who in the past has made his displeasure with Khan evident (as when MBS forced Khan to cancel his attendance at a meeting in Kuala Lumpur, where a rival organization to the Saudi-dominated O.I.C. was to have been discussed with the leaders of Turkey and Malaysia). For months the Crown Prince has been pressuring Imran Khan to normalize his country’s relations with Israel. The Kingdom is the largest foreign investor in, and donor to, Pakistan Last year MBS announced investments in Pakistani petrochemicals, power generation, and mining projects worth more than $20 billion. If Imran Khan does the one thing that is now being asked of him by MBS – to normalize relations with Israel – he can expect even more lavishing of Saudi largesse, in many forms – debt relief, direct investment, financial aid.
I suspect that Maulana Muhammad Khan Sherani did not discuss his remarks beforehand with Imran Khan, or with anyone else in the government. For they might have tried to stop him, and he was determined to speak his mind. But I also suspect that Prime Minister Khan is not unhappy that Sherani stuck his own neck out, and staked out a position that makes those who want normalization of ties with Israel seem moderate by comparison. Sherani has now made it easier for the Prime Minister, with MBS urging him on, to join the normalization juggernaut. That’s a consummation devoutly to be wished.
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