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Imran Khan says Pakistan 'will not recognise' Israel

Pakistani PM said recognising Israel would first require 'just settlement and a homeland for Palestinians'
Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan addressed attendees at the Asian Society in New York City (MEE/Azad Esa)
By Azad Essa in New York City

Pakistan will not recognise Israel until there is a homeland for the Palestinians, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan said during an event at the Asian Society in New York City on Thursday evening.

Responding to a question from Middle East Eye over speculation that Pakistan was considering a foreign policy shift towards Israel, Khan, who is currently in the United States to attend the United Nations General Assembly, said he was not aware of where these reports were originating from.

Over the past month, speculation has been rife that Pakistan may be open to establishing formal relations with Israel due to the reconfiguring of relations between the Gulf nations and Israel, particularly Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Social media has also been abuzz with debate and discussion, with some arguing that Pakistan's economic woes may require it to form new allies. 

But Khan was unequivocal in his reply.

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"Pakistan has a very straightforward position. It was our founder of Pakistan Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah who was very clear that there has to be just settlement, a homeland for Palestinians before Pakistan can recognise Israel," he said to rapturous applause.

Imran Khan [MEE/Azad Essa]
Pakistani PM Imran Khan addressed attendees at the Asian Society in New York City on 26 September, 2019 [MEE/Azad Essa]

The debate mostly began in early September when Kamran Khan, president and editor-in-chief for the Dunya Media Group, asked on Twitter: "Why can’t we openly debate pros cons of opening direct and overt channels of communication with the State of Israel?"

The tweet was interpreted by many as an attempt to test Pakistani public opinion about Israel.

Kunwar Khuldune Shahid, a Pakistani journalist, wrote in Haaretz that the tweet showed "the once-taboo subject of Islamabad probing potential relations with Israel has undergone a sea change - and is now entering the mainstream discourse."

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During a press conference some days later, Pakistan's military denied that the country was changing course on Israel, before directing further queries to the foreign office.

“As far as my visibility goes, nothing of the sort is happening. But this is a question related to the foreign office," the spokesperson said.

This led to further debate without any intervention or clarification from Pakistan's Foreign Ministry. 

Questions over Khan's approach to Israel began in October 2018 when a report circulated saying that an Israeli jet had landed in Islamabad for 10 hours, leading to wide-scale speculation that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu may have visited the country.

Airport staff in Pakistan also told Middle East Eye in November that a Bizjet flight carrying the Israeli prime minister during his surprise trip to Oman landed in Noorkhan air base. A pilot told MEE that they saw a BizJet flight in the air next to him before it landed in Noorkhan air base.

Three witnesses from the Noorkhan air base confirmed the pilot's account and said they saw a car picking up a delegation at the steps of the plane. The developments almost prompted a political crisis for Khan.

Though Pakistan has never recognised Israel formally, it is understood that the two countries have met behind the scenes, even discussed the possibility of forming diplomatic relations. 

Though Khan has remained adamant that his trip to the UN is primarily focused on raising awareness about India's descent into Hindu fascism and the weeks-old blockade of Kashmir, he has also been roped into other pressing issues during his visit.

With Pakistan enjoying strong ties with Saudi Arabia and friendly ties with Iran, Khan said that he had been approached by US President Donald Trump to help mediate with Iran. 

"President Trump asked me if we could de-escalate the situation and maybe come up with another deal. So, I did convey this (to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani) and yes, we are trying our best. It's an ongoing thing so I can't reveal more than that," Khan told reporters on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly. 

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