Arab Attitudes to Israel Remain Constant, Despite Israeli Political Upheavals

January 24, 2023 | David Pollock
About the author: David Pollock is the Kaufman fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, where he directs the Fikra Forum blog and the Arabic website.

According to recent high-quality polls taken in both the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, 90 percent of respondents believe that the return of Benjamin Netanyahu to the premiership will be harmful to the region. Yet, observes David Pollock, support for contacts with the Jewish state in both countries has remained at 40 percent since 2020. Pollock comments on these findings, and others from other elsewhere in the Middle East:

It now appears that Netanyahu’s return to power, highly unpopular as that is among these Gulf Arab publics, does not alter [the general] pattern. In addition, findings from a parallel survey conducted in Bahrain in July 2022 are remarkably similar, with 37 percent of Bahrainis also voicing acceptance of allowing Israeli contacts. Even in Qatar, which has not joined the Abraham Accords, the most recent available data (November 2021) reveal an almost identical level of popular acceptance of Israeli contacts among its citizens.

The logical conclusion is that this aspect of normalization with Israel has itself become relatively “normalized” among most Gulf Arab publics—even as a slim majority in each country remains privately at least “somewhat” opposed to it. The figures are similar and steady over the past three years, regardless of formal inclusion or exclusion from the Abraham Accords, political changes in Israel, or tensions on the ground in the Palestinian arena.

Also noteworthy in this connection is that among the Palestinians themselves, the most recent available hard survey data (June 2022) show an even higher proportion—at least 60 percent of each subgroup—approving certain contacts with Israelis. In this case, a West Bank/Gaza/east Jerusalem poll conducted by a local independent Palestinian pollster asked about encouraging “direct personal contacts and dialogue with Israelis, in order to help the Israeli peace camp advocate a just solution.” At the time, a surprising 48 percent of east Jerusalem Palestinians also expressed a positive view of the Abraham Accords themselves, though only around half as many Gazans or West Bankers agreed with that assessment.

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