Although It Has Much to Gain, Tunisia Is Unlikely to Normalize Its Relations with the Jewish State

July 10, 2023 | David Levy
About the author:

Tunisia has much in common with the nearby countries of Egypt and Morocco, both of which have made peace with Israel. And unlike most Arab countries, it is home to a small but vibrant Jewish community. Yet it has thus far avoided joining the Abraham Accords in part because of an Islamist government and in part because it tends to side with Algeria—and thus with Iran—in the conflict between Algiers and Rabat. David Levy explains:

Despite Algeria’s concerns, economic desperation might force Tunisia to consider joining the Abraham Accords. Plagued as it is by severe economic problems, Tunisia needs foreign aid, and joining the Accords might attract loans from the U.S., the Gulf States, or others. However, such a move could have serious internal and regional implications. For now, the potential political costs and risks seem to outweigh the perceived benefits of normalization, leading Tunisian officials to deny claims that Tunisia is on the verge of joining the Abraham Accords.

Kais Saied, a political outsider, was elected president of Tunisia in a landslide in 2019. He proceeded to suspend parliament and dismiss the prime minister on the claim that he was saving the country from a corrupt and incompetent political elite. However, his detractors have denounced his actions as a coup that violated the democratically adopted constitution. Since then, Saied has consolidated his one-man rule. In early 2022, he dissolved the Supreme Judicial Council, ending judicial independence, and imposed a new constitution that gave him absolute authority. Saied has succeeded in strangling the Arab world’s only democracy.

As president, Saied has regularly made inflammatory statements about Jews and Israel, such as blaming them for the country’s economic and social problems, calling for a boycott of Israeli products, and praising Palestinian “resistance.”

Tunisia . . . is a Sunni, moderate, Western-allied state with a long and storied Jewish community, and it could benefit from the trade and tourism normalization would provide. However, deeper scrutiny reveals that an adverse public, a dependence on the Algerian relationship, and a president hostile to Israel make any near-term normalization doubtful.

Read more on BESA Center: