Jerusalem: Seeking closer ties with Israel, former Pakistan President General Pervez Musharraf said the Jewish state is a fait accompli; relations with it can help Islamabad come closer to the strong Jewish lobby in the US and in its conflict against India.

Musharraf, who is planning to return to Pakistan on January 25 or 27, in his first interview to an Israeli daily "Ha'aretz" said getting closer to Israel would be in the interest of his country as "Israel has always been pro-India against Pakistan."

He said defying popular sentiment in Pakistan, he shook hand with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon at the UN, spoke to the American Jewish Congress as the Head of the State and sent his foreign minister Khurshid Mahmoud Kasuri to meet the then Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom in Istanbul.

"I felt I needed to test the waters in Pakistan when it comes to Israel. Yes. We have been anti-Israel in Pakistan because of Palestine, because the Pakistani people are on the side of the Palestinians and concerned for their plight. Right from the beginning, from when we got our independence in 1947 and Israel came into reality a year later, we have been pro- Palestine," said Musharraf, who is planning to return to Pakistan on January 25 or 27.

"But I believe in realism and in assessing ground realities. I think it's necessary to understand the changing environment, analyse it - and respond. A lot has happened since '48, and one has to adjust. Policies are made, yes, but when the environment changes, policies should change. Policies should not remain constant," he said justifying his gestures towards the Jewish state.

The General feels that his country can continue to support the Palestinian cause but should not err in grasping changed global scenario. "Israel is a fait accompli. A lot of the Muslim world have understood that and I know many Muslim countries have relations with Israel, whether above board or covertly. So this is the change in reality I am talking about", Musharraf said.

"Pakistan has to keep demanding the resolution of the Palestinian dispute... [but] Pakistan also needs to keep readjusting its diplomatic stand toward Israel based on the mere fact that it exists and is not going away," he asserted.

Musharraf said defying the popular sentiment in Pakistan he stood by his actions of shaking hand with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon at the UN, speaking to the American Jewish Congress as the Head of the State and sending his foreign minister Khurshid Mahmoud Kasuri to meet the then Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom in Istanbul.

His government had to immediately backtrack with both Prime Minister Zafarullah Khan Jamali and Information Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed reiterating Pakistan's traditional policy toward Israel, and the Foreign Office jumping in and joining the chorus.

Musharraf however insists that "there was no negative fallout", though admitting that "it was a risk". "There is always a risk in any new initiative. You can never be sure [what the reaction will be]. But a leader who is not prepared to take risks is not a leader. I believe that leaders should generally flow with public opinion. But there are times and issues where the public opinion goes astray, or is anchored in wrong premises - and to change that is the leader's job", he stressed.

Pointing towards a commonality between Israel and Pakistan, Musharraf said that they both owe their origin in religion.

"Pakistan, like Israel, is an ideological state. That is the foundation of our creation. We are an Islamic republic," he said.

Musharraf, explaining the strong reactions in his country towards various actions that are perceived anti-Islamic, said, "this goes toward explaining why Pakistani Muslims are much more sensitive about Islam than most other Muslim countries. We are extremely sensitive about desecration of the Koran. So we are wholly sensitive to the Palestinian plight and any new initiative regarding Israel has to be proposed very delicately."

Asked about the recent furor caused by the statement of US ambassador to Belgium, who hinted that Israel's political positions may explain anti-Semitism in Muslim countries, Musharraf in carefully chosen words said that "it may be correct".

"It may be correct, especially when the Jewish community anywhere in the world immediately orients itself with Israel - on the Palestinian issue, but also on any issue in the Arab world," he responded.

The former Pakistan president came hard on the exaggerated influence enjoyed by the US Jewish lobby but also gave a confused response citing it as one of the reasons for seeking close ties with Israel.

"The lobby is exactly what is disliked in the Muslim world. Why is the US like that? Now, for example, when there was a move in the UN to recognise Palestine, the whole world is on one side, and the US on the other. These are the things that are seen in the Muslim world as totally partisan and biased in favor of Israel and Jews - because of Jewish influence, the US is totally pro-Israel," he pointed. "They don't see realities and they are unfair to the point of violating justice. On one side they believe in democracy, say, but then Hamas wins and they change their position. What kind of a dual policy is this? I think the US needs to look inward and I would say the Jewish community in the US needs to look inward as well," he argued.

When asked what Pakistan has to gain by getting closer to Israel, the very thing that most irks Musharraf,"the perceived Jewish influence in the US and elsewhere" was what he pointed out as a potential prize.

"What do we stand to gain? First of all, there is an unnecessary opposition by Israel to Pakistan in all international forums," he said.

"And the world media is part of this, yes. Israel has clout in the media. I would say the Jewish community has clout in the media, in the US and elsewhere. Which leads to unnecessary opposition to us. Israel is a country which has certain clout. Especially with the US backing it. In any case, there is nothing to lose by trying to get on Israel's good side," Musharraf told the Israeli daily.

However the former Pakistani military ruler was on a more confident footing when describing another reason why it might be in Pakistan's interest to get closer to Israel - the India factor.

"The issue of India is another sensitivity in Pakistan. Israel has always been pro-India against Pakistan," he said.

Acknowledging that this could be in part because Israel and Pakistan do not have diplomatic relations, he still feels the opposition is a little far fetched.

"Well, yes. That's right. But that does not mean you should be actively anti-Pakistan, supporting India on important issues such as the Kashmir dispute, advising them, and cooperating on intelligence, which is a very big deal", Musharraf noted.

Musharraf in his interview also eulogises comatosed former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon for his contributions on the battlefield for Israel, admitting that he is a fan of the former Israeli General.

Asked about his offer to mediate solve the Israeli- Palestinian conflict Musharraf argued that it was at the root many of todays bigger problems.

"Look at terrorism and extremism, 9/11, Al-Qaida, Hezbollah, Hamas - all these are products of the unsettled Palestinian dispute. Because of the misery these Palestinians are suffering, which is seen all over the world on TV, there is a reaction," he argued.

"If you go back to the history of the Muslim world, you see that for centuries we were colonised - all of us except Turkey. When we gained independence after the Second World War, we were illiterate, backward and poor, almost all of us, and the Palestinian issue arose as a focal point. This aroused sympathetic feelings in the whole Muslim world and affected the collective mind of the Muslims," he further added.

The Pakistani General also elaborated on his efforts following his offer to mediate as to how to rally support in the Muslim owrld to solve the long pending dispute.

Israel at the time did welcome Musharraf's publicly-stated offer to help, but also said it was doubtful the Pakistani leader could make much progress.