France – a real friend in need – Ikram Sehgal


Dozens of bombs and constant shelling by self-propelled guns targeting the densely populated coastal areas of Gaza was the response to the Palestinian organisation Hamas firing dozens of rockets at Israel. This in itself was a reaction to the extreme right-wing Israeli extremists entering the Al-Aqsa Mosque under cover of the police, Israel police; later they brutalised Palestinian protesters. Hundreds of Palestinians have died so far including nearly 70 children, they lie buried under the rubble of their houses. About 12 Israelis have been killed, including 12 children. Hosting the offices of Al Jazeera and Associated Press, among others, the destruction a high-rise building was denounced by RSF (Reporters Without Borders) as a war crime. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu called it an “absolutely legitimate aim” for Israeli rockets since Hamas allegedly had an office in the building as well.

Last Sunday’s emergency meeting of the UN Security Council was the third of its kind without a joint declaration having been adopted. Even a resolution expressing ‘deep concern’ over the situation was vetoed by the US in all three meetings. Despite 25 Senators of his own Democratic party expressing deep concern and demanding an end to the bombings, President Biden is following the path of Trump by being the staunchest supporter of Israel and its policy of constantly eating up Arab lands in favour of Jewish settlers through eviction and ethnic cleansing. As someone who deeply admires and cherishes American values taught to me before my teens by a Texan nun, this is incongruous. One can only hope that Biden’s silence in public aimed at maintaining a tougher stance with Netanyahu in private.

The Arabs who had lived peacefully within Israel itself have also risen up in protest, thereby dispelling the myth that they, and by extension the Muslim world, had side-lined the Palestinians. As the mass reaction from the streets patently undescores

The Palestinian-Israeli conflict has been ongoing since 1948 and thousands of Palestinians have lost their homes, homeland and lives. Yet the international community, including the UN, has failed to find a solution. The main reason for this has bene Israel’s stubborn attitude, insisting “my way or the highway”, instead of finding a compromise with the indigenous Arab population. Millions of Palestinian refugees – their numbers estimated between 6-10 million – have secured asylum and settled in multiple countries but most of them have never given up the dream of going home one day. So, things seemed to have somehow quietened down and there might have been hope that the problem would go away by itself. To help that end goal and to bring support for Israel in the Middle East, President Trump’s son-in law leveraged his commercial contacts with Arab monarchs. Initiating the “Abraham Accords”, he was instrumental in making the UAE not only recognise Israel but immediately establish diplomatic relations amid much media hype. This symbolically side-lined the Palestinians and their cause and emboldened Israeli settlers in occupied East Jerusalem who tried to seize control of Palestinian homes in Sheikh Jarrah, an historic part of the city. They had resorted to the Israeli Supreme Court which usually supports the government and settler line in matters relating to the occupied Palestinian territories. However, when put to the test, the “Abraham Accords” did not pan out the way Trump and his son-in-law had hoped. For while Arab monarchs were ready to make a deal with Israel supporting their own specific interests of self-survival, the common Arab never shared those ambitions of their rulers. Despite perceptions otherwise Saudi Arabia – a long-standing supporter of rights of Palestinians – has not succumbed to the pressure to recognise Israel. Turkey had recognised Israel well before the Abraham Accords and tried ‘normalising’ relations, it conceded that this was impossible in the face of Israeli policy.

Our own relationship with the Palestinians is one-sided, while we have always supported them through thick and thin, they have never supported us on Kashmir. This is mainly because of a gross distortion of facts, that Pakistani troops killed Palestinians during their uprising against King Husain of Jordan in September 1970. The PLO and the PFLP in 1970 had virtually taken over Amman, PLO even having its HQs in the Hotel Intercontinental. In support the Kingdom was invaded by a Syrian armoured Brigade Plus. The Jordanian Commander of 3rd Armoured Division at Irbid, Maj Gen Qasim Motta, deserted. Brig Zia ul Haq took over the command and with our troops from an anti-aircraft regiment stopped the Syrian advance at Irbid. The “training teams” deputed by Pakistan, heavy in military hierarchy, which included Maj Gen Nawazish Malik, shored up the Jordanian monarchy in Amman by securing and running critical command and control areas (under Brig Iftikhar Rana). In the face of desertions by Palestinians in the Jordanian Army, our troops (under Col Yaseen Malik) took over personal protection of royal compounds to the King and the royal family in Amman and in the vicinity. Air Commodore Anwar Shameem took over the Royal Jordanian Air Force. At the same time, they kept the Iraqi Armoured Division (about 20,000 troops) present in Jordan from interfering on behalf of PLO. You may vilify Ziaul Haq for any number of reasons, but in Jordan, he proved himself a genuine Pakistani hero. There was hardly any combat exchange of fire between Pakistanis and Palestinians. My feeling sorry for Pakistan is force-multiplied by total fabrication and unfounded vilification by the Palestinians. In many meetings thereafter over the years Yassar Arafat never showed any anger or bitterness towards Pakistan, on the contrary he lauded their role in Jordan.

Visiting Jordan in May 2018 for an Eastwest Institute (EWI) Board Meeting, EWI Chairman Ross Perot Jr arranged for the Board Members to meet with King Abdullah II, I mentioned the role Pakistan played in stabilising the Kingdom in 1970. Pakistani soldiers lost their lives defending Jordan, no other Muslim soldiers from any other country did. Abdullah as an 8-year-old was one of the royals that Pakistanis protected with their lives. King Abdullah II brusquely brushed this aside, so much for gratitude! Unlike Abdullah, his uncle, Crown Prince Hassan, who had actually taken overall military command, always remained grateful to Pakistan. Incidentally, Pakistan troops facilitated the subsequent disengagement move of the PLO and PFLP to Lebanon.

Given the staunch US support Israel is unwilling to compromise. Israel’s intransigence hardening because of the Abraham Accords. Netanyahu has done nothing to moderate tensions in recent weeks and his language on Gaza has become increasingly defiant. Indeed, the Arabs who had lived peacefully within Israel itself have also risen in protest. Their callous calculation was that the Arabs, and by extension the Muslim world, had side-lined Palestinian. The mass reaction in the streets (and now by govts in the OIC) has shown this is patently false. It will be very difficult to revive the euphoria that the Abraham Accords had generated at its signing in the White House. However, the conflict is regarded as politically expedient for the beleaguered Netanyahu, it may help him regain the prime ministership (and thus escape corruption charges) after he was unable to form a coalition government following recent elections.

It is in the very own interest of Israel to smoothen out its relations with Arabs and Palestinians which demands in the first place to recognise them as equals and their right to live in their ancestral land. Similarly, the Palestinians must live with the reality of Israel to achieve peace. (A defence and security analyst, the writer is Chairman Karachi Council of Foreign Affairs (KCFR) and the Vice Chairman Board of Management Quaid-e-Azam House Museum (a Nation Building Institution).

The writer is a defence and security analyst