While the detractors of Israel’s recent peace treaties with Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates have argued that they are purely “transactional” and that they somehow foster the abandonment of the Palestinians, Einat Wilf makes the case that the reality is very different. Drawing on numerous interactions with denizens of the Persian Gulf, especially young ones, as well as matters of public record, Wilf argues that the accords have opened the doors for Arabs to sympathize openly, and sometimes fervently, with Zionism. For the UAE in particular, they represent a maneuver in a “battle for the soul of Islam,” striking a blow for those who embrace tolerance over the fanatics. And by their very name—as well as by the way their signatories have put them into practice—the Abraham Accords suggest an acceptance of Jews and the Jewish state as part of the Middle East. And such acceptance, Wilf explains, can in turn make it possible for Palestinians themselves to make peace with Israel. (Video, 64 minutes.)
The Abraham Accords and the Birth of Arab Zionism
When It Comes to Peace with Israel, Many Saudis Have Religious Concerns
While roughly a third of Saudis are willing to cooperate with the Jewish state in matters of technology and commerce, far fewer are willing to allow Israeli teams to compete within the kingdom—let alone support diplomatic normalization. These are just a few results of a recent, detailed, and professional opinion survey—a rarity in Saudi Arabia—that has much bearing on current negotiations involving Washington, Jerusalem, and Riyadh. David Pollock notes some others:
When asked about possible factors “in considering whether or not Saudi Arabia should establish official relations with Israel,” the Saudi public opts first for an Islamic—rather than a specifically Saudi—agenda: almost half (46 percent) say it would be “important” to obtain “new Israeli guarantees of Muslim rights at al-Aqsa Mosque and al-Haram al-Sharif [i.e., the Temple Mount] in Jerusalem.” Prioritizing this issue is significantly more popular than any other option offered. . . .
This popular focus on religion is in line with responses to other controversial questions in the survey. Exactly the same percentage, for example, feel “strongly” that “our country should cut off all relations with any other country where anybody hurts the Quran.”
By comparison, Palestinian aspirations come in second place in Saudi popular perceptions of a deal with Israel. Thirty-six percent of the Saudi public say it would be “important” to obtain “new steps toward political rights and better economic opportunities for the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.” Far behind these drivers in popular attitudes, surprisingly, are hypothetical American contributions to a Saudi-Israel deal—even though these have reportedly been under heavy discussion at the official level in recent months.
Therefore, based on this analysis of these new survey findings, all three governments involved in a possible trilateral U.S.-Saudi-Israel deal would be well advised to pay at least as much attention to its religious dimension as to its political, security, and economic ones.