One of the great unexpected Middle Eastern developments of this century has been the gradual warming of relations between Israel and several Arab states. But Daniel Pipes wonders if the thaw is really here to stay:
The decades of vitriolic anti-Zionist propaganda [in Arab countries] had a profound effect on the populations. If sophisticated leaders calculating costs and benefits concluded that confronting Israel was a bad idea, their subjects remained largely trapped in a state of frenzy. In part, this retained the old pan-Arab character while larding on a new Islamist venom for Jews.
Exhibit A is the recent presidential election in Tunisia. Tunisia stands out as both the least anti-Zionist Arab country of decades past and today the one with the most open and democratic system; therefore, its election has outsized importance as an indicator.
In October, to the surprise of most observers, the distinctly uncharismatic Kais Saied emerged as Tunisia’s new president. Pipes suggests that hatred of Israel might have been his winning card:
The Tunis-based [journalist] Lamine Ghanmi found that Saied’s popularity “was bolstered by his fiery stance against Israel.” [Saied has asserted] that Tunisia is “in a state of war” with the Jewish state and called normalization with it “a great treason.” Thousands celebrated his electoral victory by taking to the streets, raising the Palestinian flag, and calling for the destruction of Israel. Others agree with [Ghanmi’s] assessment.
Although a willingness to accept Israel has trickled down in the Gulf Cooperation Council states, this shift has not traveled much farther. So long as Sunni Arab elites see Israel as a useful, if discreet, ally against the real danger posed by Tehran, these anti-Zionist sentiments will be held in check. But when that commonality fades, old-fashioned Palestinian-style hatred of Israel could come roaring back, with miserable consequences.