Much has been made of the recent high-level contacts between Israel and Sunni Arab states, including those with which it has no formal relations. But such contacts have been fairly common since the 1990s, even if largely unacknowledged. What is new, writes David Pollock, is the public debate about the subject in the Arabic media:
Particularly noteworthy . . . is a long article in the current issue of the popular and influential pan-Arab weekly al-Majalla, based in London but widely circulated and read in both print and online editions [throughout the Middle East]. This article not only reviews the long history of Arab-Israeli relations, but also cites statements [on the subject] by the Israeli ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer at great length.
Responses [to this article] by Saudi writers are mixed, but some are very vocally in favor of dealing with Israel. . . . Among Egyptian writers, the idea of regular dealings with Israel still excites fierce debate, even after nearly four decades of official peace. . . . [But] even some Egyptian writers and academics most critical of ties to Israel acknowledge that the younger generation, turned against Iran, Hamas, and the Muslim Brotherhood both by their own experience and by their government’s changing positions, is losing some of its animosity toward [the Jewish state]. . . .
While Arab publics overwhelmingly dislike Israel (and Jews), solid majorities in most recent surveys, on the order of 60 percent, nevertheless voice support for a “two-state solution,” which implies peace with the Jewish state. And they do so even when the question is worded to call explicitly for peace with Israel, or for abandoning the struggle to liberate all of Palestine. The exception . . . is the Palestinian public in the West Bank and Gaza, where support for a two-state solution has lately fallen to just below the halfway mark. . . .
The conclusion is clear: today a broader regional approach to Arab-Israeli peacemaking, rather than a strictly bilateral Israeli-Palestinian one, offers somewhat better prospects of success—whether at the official, elite, media, or even popular levels. Normalization with Israel remains controversial in Arab circles, but it is no longer taboo. . . . The next U.S. administration would do well to ponder this unaccustomed situation, and to adjust its policies accordingly.