By Subhash Bhambhu
‘What essential counts for being a country?’ is a confusing question. We are aware of the essentials of a country- Territory, Population, Government, and Sovereignty. Throughout history, countries having essentials (Territory, Population, Government, and Sovereignty) have ended up in the mere quasi-state. But some countries emerged by the recognition from the hegemon countries even in the absence of some of those essential characters. A vaguer answer to the question in the realist tone could be ‘recognition’.
On 12, May 1948 President Truman met with Secretary of State Marshall, Under Secretary of State Lovett, the counsel of President Clifford to discuss the Palestinian situation. Two days later Israel declared itself an independent state under the ‘1948 Israeli declaration of independence’. The same day, the United States extended recognition to Israel (the US extended de jure recognition after the first Israeli election, on 31 January 1949). Theoretically, Israel did not have definite territory, population, government, or sovereignty at the time when countries started to recognise it as a sovereign country like the USA. But the fact is that Israel has been a sovereign, independent country since its inception. Thus, recognition counts heavy hands and sometimes overweighs other essentials.
Israel has emerged based on a historical and biblical promised land amid rapid resistance from Arab monarchies. To ensure its survival, Israel needed recognition from both then, superpowers USA and USSR, which it eventually got in 1949 and 1948 respectively. USSR was the first country to recognise Israel de jure on 17 May 1948. Iran was the first middle eastern country under Shah, a pro-US regime to recognise Israel. Till the six-day war, Israel had persuaded most of the Western European, North and South American, African, and some of the Asian countries for diplomatic relations. After the war, many countries turned for the Palestinian cause after the threat of an oil embargo from Arabs. After the 1967 Khartoum Resolution by the Arab League, it was pledged not to recognise Israel, and this stand was maintained continuously, even after the 1973 conflict. Later, events like the recognition of PLO by Israel, two intifadas, the 2006 Israeli-Lebanese conflict, and the Blockade of Gaza have been leading to the fluctuation in cutting and restoring diplomatic relations with Israel by various countries.
The next day of creation, Israel applied for membership in United Nations but did not act on by United Nations Security Council (UNSC). The second application also could not pave the way forward because of Syria’s objection, then a member of non-permanent member of the UNSC. After the third application, the General assembly adopted resolution 273 with the requisite two-thirds majority in 1949, and Israel secured UN membership. During these voting sessions, the number of abstentions and the nature of absentees was surprising.
If we look at the list of countries that never recognised Israel, most of them are Muslim majority except North Korea and Bhutan. Malaysia, Indonesia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Brunei, Bangladesh, are among the non-Middle eastern Muslim majority countries that never recognised Israel. Six Arab countries have recognised Israel as well. These are Egypt in 1976, Jordan in 1994, UAE, Bahrain, Morocco, and Sudan in 2020. In September 2020, President Trump brokered the diplomatic deal with Kosovo, Serbia, and Israel too. Albanian Muslim majority Kosovo got independence from Serbia in 2008 after decade long unrest. Through the accord, Serbia and Kosovo normalised their relations. Kosovo also agreed to recognise Israel provided mutual recognition from Israel. Both the countries have not recognised each other since their inception.
The peace treaty between Egypt and Israel materialised two years after Sadat visited Jerusalem in 1977 and the next year of the Camp David Accords. According to the treaty, Israel abandoned occupation over the Sinai Peninsula and Egypt allowed Israel’s maritime trade through Suez Canal. Thus, Egypt became the first Arab country to recognise Israel. It was then major gossip in the IR circle. This peace initiative led Sadat and Begin to share the 1978 Nobel Peace Prize. Unfortunately, Egypt paid price for betrayal of the Palestinian cause; was suspended from Arab League, and Anwar Sadat was assassinated by extremists in Cairo on 6 October 1981.
In 1987 secret talks were started between then Israeli foreign minister Peres and King Hussein of Jordan but could not materialised due to Yitzhak Shamir’s unwillingness. After the Oslo accord and arrival of Yitzhak Rabin in the office, ices were melted. Bill Clinton persuaded King Hussein for negotiations and Jordan agreed to cease claim over West Bank in the favour of peaceful resolution under the Oslo Accords. On 26 October 1994, a nonbelligerency peace treaty between Israel and Jordan was signed and Jordan became the second Arab country to recognise Israel. Though, the peace deal costed the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin on 4 November 1995 by a Jewish extremist.
Read other commentaries from the writer
It’s almost a year since the death of Qassim Soleimani. Read this special commentary of the Iran’s second most powerful person and military general Qassim Soleimani. Read the article to know how he became Iran’s second most powerful person and the strategy behind his assassination by the United States.
Amid US presidential election preparation, the Trump administration put energy and resources to bear fruits on the foreign policy front. With half a year rush, UAE and Bahrain became the third and fourth Arab countries to accept Israel as a sovereign country. The peace agreement between Israel and UAE was signed on 13 August 2020 and between Israel and Bahrain on 11 September 2020. “It took us 26 years between the second peace agreement with an Arab country and the third, but only 29 days between the third and the fourth, and there will be more,” said Netanyahu. Though, it took Israel 31 years to persuade the first Arab country for a peace agreement since the inception of Israel and then 15 years more to reach the second Arab country. This statement of Netanyahu showed a long-awaited longing for recognition from Arab neighbors. Nasser’s pan-Arabism for the Palestinian cause created a survival dilemma and nuclear inspiration for Israel. But the constant threat from changing regional rivals (earlier under the leadership of Egypt and now, Iranian-backed militias) for the same Palestinian cause obliged Israel to choose the policy of normalization with the neighbors. Israel bypassed a lot of diplomatic labour under the Trump administration. Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law of Jewish descent and Middle East advisor to the President revised his strategy after the failure of his earlier Middle East Peace Plan.
Bahrain’s shift was directly instructed by the Saudi monarchy. Though old royal circle saw hope and commitment in the Palestinian cause including King himself. There is also the burden of being a chieftain of the Islamic heritage (tajdar-e-haram) on the shoulders of the Saudi Royals. But this might not be the case for the younger generation after crown prince MBS ascending the throne.
On 1 February 2021, the normalisation ceremony between Israel and Kosovo was organised through an online platform in Jerusalem and Pristina in the presence of Gabi Ashkenazi and Meliza Haradinaj Stublla- foreign ministers of Israel and Kosovo respectively. Kosovo agreed to establish its embassy in Jerusalem. The US recognised Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in 2017 and shifted its embassy to Jerusalem in 2018 amid huge critics from the Muslim world. As of now, the US and Guatemala are the only two countries having an embassy in Jerusalem, and Malawi and Honduras have planned to move. Unlike Kosovo, the rest of the countries which normalized their relations with Israel are agreed only to maintain their mission in Tel Aviv. The announcement came from Pristina at a time when the whole world was celebrating international Holocaust Memorial Day. Kosovar foreign minister Stublla mentioned that during WW-2, Kosovars provided shelters to persecuted Jews and Israeli people were with us in vital moments like the Kosovar freedom struggle.
The normalisation process has not been completed with Abraham Accords and gossips in the diplomatic circle indicates many more neighbours to come. The new administration of Joe Biden also indicated the same on several occasions. When it comes to the Middle East, the only decision which is taken by the previous administration, Biden’s presidency is not in the mood to revert is the normalisation process.
(The views and opinions expressed are those of the author)
Subhash Bhambhu is from Rajasthan, India. He pursued graduation from JNU, New Delhi in Persian Studies. Currently, he is doing his masters in South Asian Studies at UMISARC, Pondicherry University. His fields of interest are South Asia, Middle East and Post colonial Studies.