After the celebration of the White House signing of normalization accords among Israel, Bahrain and UAE, invoking Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton’s signing of Israeli-Palestinian peace accords in 1979 and 2000, euphoria is wearing off and a sober realization is setting in: they may not be all they’re cracked up to be. Of course, Trump raved about the Abraham Accords, explaining how much Jews and evangelicals will love them. Netanyahu, currently in a battle for his political life, needs every achievement he can muster for his career not to come crashing amidst corruptions charges, the world’s third-highest COVID19 case rate, and raging protests against his rule. They were naturally delighted with the result.
The UAE and Bahrain both have a complex set of interests revolving around their domination by Saudi Arabia and enmity for Iran. Their leaders care less what their own citizens think about normalization, than what their royal patrons in Riyadh do. That is only possible in the sort of autocratic regimes that populate the Gulf. But they would do well, remembering the Arab Spring, to give some thought to how their own populations feel. And there is almost universal opposition to the deal in the Arab world. A July poll by the pro-Israel think tank, WINEP, found the vast majority of Emiratis oppose normalization:
80%…disagree with this statement: “people who want to have business or sports contacts with Israelis should be allowed to do so.” Here, too, the popular majority differs from current official UAE policy.
In Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Egypt, the percentage disapproving of normalization is even higher. A June poll of Egyptians found:
There is also very little popular support for further “normalization” with Israel. A mere 6% agree that “people who want to have business or sports contacts with Israelis should be allowed to do so.” By contrast, half the Egyptian public “strongly disagrees” with that assertion.
When asked whether they would “support or oppose diplomatic recognition of Israel by your country” only respondents in Sudan and Saudi Arabia came in at less than 80 percent for “oppose”, at 79 percent and 65 percent respectively.
Israel’s Strategic Affairs ministry compiled a survey of Arab attitudes on social media finding that over 90% of content had “negative” or “very negative” views of normalization. Only 5% views the deal favorably. 45% of posts found the Accords to be a betrayal of Palestinians and Arab solidarity:
27% lamented the country’s “interacting with Zionists,” 10% its “hypocrisy” and 5% saw the agreement as Abu Dhabi surrendering to American interests.”
The ministry, prone to finding conspiracies around the world against Israeli interests, claimed an organized campaign by the Arab world’s “anti-peace camp.” Exploiting the current popularity of social justice issues and the sensitivity to racism, the Israeli minister labelled this opposition as Arab “hate speech.”
Curiously, though over 90% of the social media content criticized normalization, the Israeli report found that this sentiment was spearheaded by the usual anti-Israel bogeymen:
“The main protagonists against normalization were found to be accounts associated with Hezbollah, Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, alongside a series of Palestinian NGOs that promote delegitimization against Israel.”
Is she claiming that these groups control 90% of the social media content in the Arab world? Or is she just looking for a convenient scapegoat for Israelis to blame?
She further raised the alarm:
The hashtags “Normalization is treason” and “Bahrainis against normalization” together had a “potential exposure of over 100 million accounts,” the ministry said further. The use of these hashtags was a “coordinated campaign conducted to produce a semblance of widespread opposition in the Arab world to the agreements in an effort to deter more countries from embracing warmer ties with Israel.”
“Potential exposure” seems an incredibly vague term to use regarding social media. But even if this content was published, promoted and read by a few million users, it would indicate a significant sentiment against the agreement. However, claiming opposition is based on a “coordinated campaign” or that it is somehow inauthentic, without offering any evidence, indicates the emptiness of her claims.
She revealed plans for Israel to wage its own propaganda plan in the Arab world in favor of the deal:
…”We will work to promote a long-term positive mindset in Arabic that will present the benefits of peace, while challenging the narrative against it…The ministry recommended launching an online campaign “to change Israel’s perception, with a focus on the Arab world” that would “provide more balanced and reliable information, including within the context of legitimization regarding Israel.””
It is hard to see how an Arab world already prone to suspect Israeli motives will warm the idea of a hasbara offensive seeking to transform Israel into a warm and fuzzy friend. I suspect this announcement will be seen as the manipulative effort it is, and would have just the opposite effect.
Trump administration and Israeli officials have happily reeled off the names of the next Arab dominoes to fall into line behind the normalization juggernaut. Morocco is being courted with the promise the U.S. will recognize its occupation of the Western Sahara (though protests against the deal have roiled the streets); while Sudan is being squeezed by the U.S., which blandishes the prospect of its removal from terror lists. Despite the Jerusalem Post predicting that Sudan faced a deadline of agreeing by October 15th, no such approval has emerged from the military-civilian government which took power after toppling the dictator, Omar Bashir. The Sudanese military is much closer to the elites in the Gulf States, while the civilians members are closer to the voices of the Street, which oppose normalization.
The biggest domino is Saudi Arabia. Clearly, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is eager to join the normalization band-wagon. But he realizes that he cannot do so unless he can produce a groundswell of support amongst his fellow Arabs. So far, that hasn’t materialized. A deal that doesn’t include the Saudis is an empty shell. At this rate, even if the Saudis do join, it will not be the rousing statement of unity that Bin Salman would prefer.
If the Accords fall flat on their face, it will be yet another half-baked scheme devised by Trump’s wunderkind, son-in-law, Jared Kushner in collaboration with his Arab despot allies. But whatever happens, it is clear that the prevailing sentiment among the ruling class is to abandon Palestinians and glom onto Iran as an existential threat it can use to instill fear among the ruled and buttress social control.
The only real, lasting resolution of Israel’s conflict with the Arab world must offer justice for Palestinians and a comprehensive agreement with frontline states like Lebanon and Syria, which have yet to negotiate their territorial differences. Israel must return all lands conquered and occupied illegally since 1967. Only then can genuine normalization occur.
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.