Shock Poll: 79% of Saudis see pathway to peace with Israel, large majorities of Arabs in region see normalization deals coming
As Pompeo meets in Washington with Saudi Foreign Minister and encourages the Kingdom to “normalize” relations with Israel, poll reveals that 58% of Saudis “favorable” to President Trump’s Mideast Peace plan.
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by Joel C. Rosenberg | October 15, 2020
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo listens to Saudi Minister of Foreign Affairs Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud speaks during their meeting at the State Department, in Washington, U.S., October 14, 2020. (Photo: Manuel Balce Ceneta/Pool via REUTERS)
A stunning new poll conducted by an Arab-American pollster has found that the people of Saudi Arabia are increasingly receptive to “normalization” of relations with Israel.
It also found that a strong majority of Saudis view President Trump’s “Deal of the Century” plan for Middle East Peace favorably.
What’s more, ALL ARAB NEWS can also report that the poll found that more than 7-in-10 Arabs in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Jordan believe that the Arab world is heading for “normalization” deals with Israel, even if Palestinian leaders continue to resist all international efforts to make peace.
Such findings would have seemed preposterous 5 or 10 years ago.
Today, they confirm the growing sense by political leaders and Mideast analysts — as well as by business leaders, investors and faith leaders — that unprecedented, tectonic shifts are underway in the geopolitical and financial landscape of the modern Middle East.
They also strongly suggest that a once unimaginable Saudi-Israeli peace deal is not only possible, but increasingly likely.
On Wednesday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met in Washington with Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud, the Saudi Foreign Minister, and publicly encouraged the Kingdom to make peace with Israel.
“I raised how the Abraham Accords brokered by President Trump contribute greatly to our shared goals for regional peace and security,” Pompeo told reporters after his meeting with Prince Faisal. “They reflect a changing dynamic in the region, one in which countries rightly recognize the need for regional cooperation to counter Iranian influence and generate prosperity. We hope Saudi Arabia will consider normalizing its relationships as well, and we want to thank them for the assistance they’ve had in the success of the Abraham Accords so far.”
Pompeo was referring to the positive statements Saudi officials have made about the UAE and Bahrain decisions to normalize, and to the Saudi decision to allow flights to crisscross its airspace on their way to and from Israel.
The Prince did not specifically refer to Israel or the Abraham Accords in his remarks. He did, however, praise US efforts to “enhance regional peace and stability.”
The Prince also noted that the “Saudi-U.S. Strategic Dialogue” talks were being held “75 years after the historic meeting in 1945 between President Roosevelt and King Abdul Aziz Al Saud aboard the USS Quincy that established our enduring partnership” and said King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman “look forward to expand our ties, enhance our institutional cooperation and elevate our partnership to new heights.”
(Photo credit: All Arab News)
The groundbreaking poll was conducted between June 28 and July 2, 2020, by James Zogby, founder of Zogby Research Services and president of the Arab-American Institute.
The project surveyed attitudes of 3,600 Arab respondents in five countries and territories — Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and the Palestinian Authority.
Some 1,005 Israelis were also surveyed for another section of the study.
The results were known and discussed this summer among Arab and Israeli officials in the region before the UAE, Bahrain and Israel made their decisions to sign the Abraham Accords, the first Arab-Israeli peace treaties in more than a quarter of a century.
However, the results are only just being released to the public.
Sky News Arabia first reported on a portion of the poll several days ago.
I was given an embargoed copy of the report in September by a senior diplomatic official in Washington, but was asked not to publish its contents until now.
Now that the material can be made public, it is well worth taking a deep dive into the rich treasure trove of data.
(Photo credit: All Arab News)
Arab Views of the Trump Peace Plan
“Nine in 10 Arab respondents in the surveyed countries consider the resolution of the Israeli- Palestinian conflict important, with about three-quarters in Egypt (79%), Saudi Arabia (75%), and the UAE (72%) saying it is ‘very important,’” Zogby found.
“In 2020 the United States administration put forward its peace plan for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” Zogby asked. “Called by some ‘The Deal of the Century,’ the plan provides, in part, for: Israel to annex about 30% of the West Bank; the opportunity for Palestinians to establish a state in the remaining areas of the West Bank and Gaza, with some additional lands adjacent to Gaza that Israel will cede to them; and a package of grants and loans to help kick-start the Palestinian economy.”
Remarkably high numbers of people in four key Arab countries said they were “very” or at least “somewhat familiar” with the contours of the Trump peace plan.
Saudi Arabia — 74%
UAE — 79%
Jordan — 82%
Egypt — 69%
The plan to forge peace between Israel and the Palestinians was released at the White House on January 28.
Ambassadors from the UAE, Bahrain and Oman — along with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — were present at the ceremony, and the plan received extensive coverage and on-going analysis and debate in the Arab media for months.
Even more striking in the poll was the large percentage of Arabs who said they were “favorable” towards the Trump initiative.
Saudi Arabia — 58%
UAE — 68%
Jordan — 49%
Egypt — 54%
It was not that so many in the Arab world agreed with every detail in the plan — they did not, Arab diplomats tell me — but there was a sense that the White House and State Department were treating an important issue in a serious, thoughtful manner.
Sources tell ALL ARAB NEWS that it was originally commissioned to better understand how Israelis and Arabs in four sovereign countries and the Palestinian Authority viewed the pros and cons of possible extension of Israeli sovereignty over swaths of the West Bank, as well as whether normalization between Israel and various Gulf Arab states was possible if Israel did not pursue annexation.
What Zogby and his team found was that overwhelming majorities in Arab countries said no progress towards full peace with Israel was possible at all if Israelis leaders unilaterally annexed territory.
“Regardless of their attitudes toward normalization and its possible benefits, more than three-quarters of all Arab respondents agree that should Israel move forward with annexation ‘all efforts at cooperation with Israel should come to an end,’” the survey found.
Fortunately, that did not end up happening. Despite months of careful consideration at the highest levels of the Israeli government of how to proceed on annexation, Netanyahu dramatically made the decision to pursue peace with the UAE instead.
Saudis Believe Normalization Is Coming
The poll found that large majorities of Saudis and other Arabs believe that peace deals between Israel and various Arab states are coming, and more than likely soon.
“At this point, in your opinion, how likely is it that some Arab states will develop normalized relations with Israel even without peace between Israel and the Palestinians?” Zogby asked.
71% of Saudis said it is likely
So did 75% of Emiratis
75% of Jordanians
69% of Egyptians
Zogby asked, “In your opinion, how desirable is it that some Arab states develop normalized relations with Israel even without peace between Israel and the Palestinians?”
Fully 4-in-10 Saudis (41%) said they believe it is desirable for Arab states to go ahead and make peace with Israel even if the Palestinians are not ready.
This is highly significant because Saudi sources have told me that number was only 5% in 2016.
In just four years, therefore, Saudi support for normalization with Israel has climbed from 5% to 41%.
Meanwhile, 56% of Arabs in the UAE told the Zogby team that they supported normalization with Israeli ahead of a Palestinian peace deal.
Note, again, that the poll was completed in early July.
Less than six weeks later — on Aug. 13 — UAE Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed (MBZ) announced that his country was, in fact, making peace with Israel without waiting any longer for the Palestinians.
MBZ decided to proceed with signing the Abraham Accords while “only” 56% of his people — not 80% or 90% — supported such a move.
This is a testament to MBZ’s remarkable courage, as well as to his apparent conviction that many more Emiratis would support his decision after it was made, when the benefits of peace with Israel became more clear to the broader public and to the region.
By contrast, only 41% of Jordanians believe it would be desirable for more Arab states to make peace with Israel prior to the resolution of the Palestinian conflict. Jordan made peace with Israel in 1994.
Likewise, despite signing the Camp David Accords with Israel in 1979, only 42% of Egyptians believe it would be a good idea for other Arab states to make peace ahead of the Palestinians.
Arab Pessimism About An Israeli-Palestinian Peace Deal
The poll found a great deal pessimism among Arabs in these four countries about the prospect of an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal in the next five years.
Jordanians are the least optimistic. Only 53% said peace is likely. Some two-thirds of Egyptians (68%) and Saudis (67%) — as well as three-quarters of Emiratis (76%) — agree that such a deal is unlikely.
(Photo credit: All Arab News)
Stunning Saudi Support For Normalization
Astonishingly, some 8-in-10 Saudis (79%) said they would support full peace and normalization of relations if Israel would accept the terms of the Saudi peace initiative, what later became known as the “Arab Peace Initiative” (API).
This is something of which Israeli citizens — and particularly leaders and policy makers — should take careful note.
Most Israelis would not support making the Palestinians a peace offer with terms as sweeping as those listed in the API nearly two decades ago.
But it is worth understanding just how rapidly the Saudi people are warming to the notion of a full peace with the Jewish state.
“In 2002, the Arab League unanimously endorsed the Arab Peace Initiative in which they agreed to establish normalized ties with Israel if Israel were to withdraw from the occupied territories and resolve the issue of the Palestinian refugees — which statement comes closest to your view?” Zogby asked.
A) I am prepared for a just and comprehensive peace with Israel if Israel is willing to return all of the territories occupied in the 1967 war including East Jerusalem and solve the issue of the refugees, and more effort should be made to achieve this goal.
Nearly 4-in-10 Saudis (39%) chose this option — noteworthy, in part, because the Saudi respondents want their leaders to make more of an effort to persuade Israel to agree.
B) I am prepared for a just and comprehensive peace with Israel if Israel is willing to return all of the territories occupied in the 1967 war including East Jerusalem and solve the issue of the refugee, but I don’t believe that the Israelis will give up the territories.
Another 40% of Saudis chose this option, despite the fact that they don’t think Israel will agree.
C) Even if the Israelis agree to return all of the territories and agree to resolve the refugee issue, I am not ready for a comprehensive peace with Israel.
Remarkably, only 1-in-5 Saudis (21%) do not support full peace or normalization of relations with Israel under any of these circumstances.
Yet fully 79% say they are ready.
This should be front page news around the world, and certainly here in Israel.
Are the Saudis and other Arabs open to changes being made to the Arab Peace Initiative? Do Arab citizens even believe the API — first ratified by the Arab League 18 years ago — is relevant to the conversation?
Important questions, and Zogby asked them both.
“In your opinion, are these terms of the Arab Peace Initiative still relevant, or should Arab states seek other ways to deal with Israel?”
What Zogby and his team found was interesting.
“Majorities of all Arab respondents believe the terms of the Arab Peace Initiative are still relevant, including 78% of Emiratis, 69% of Saudis, 68% of Egyptians, and 53% of Jordanians,” his report stated.
However, he underscored that Arabs citizens believe their leaders “should do more to convince Israel of the benefits that will come with peace.”
24% of Saudis said the API is “still relevant and should be maintained as is.”
45% of Saudis said the API is “still relevant but Arabs should do more to convince Israel of the benefits that will come with peace.”
14% of Saudis said the API is “no longer relevant and other approaches should be explored.”
17% of Saudis said the API is “no longer relevant and should be scrapped.”
These last two responses — a total of 31% of those surveyed — in combination with the other results are interesting because they suggest that after nearly two decades of stalemate with Israel, Saudi leaders might want to consider introducing creative variations to break the stalemate.
In fact, the data strongly indicate that Saudis and others in the region fully expect Arab states to make peace with Israel even if the Palestinian leadership continues to say no to peace.
“Given the stalemate in peace making, about 7-in-10 Arab respondents believe it is likely that Arab states will develop normalized ties with Israel even without a peace agreement with the Palestinians,” Zogby found.
Not all want the Arab states to make peace ahead of the Palestinians, but they increasingly believe it is inevitable.
The decisions by UAE and Bahrain have proven them right.
Finally, it was intriguing to see what kind of benefits Arabs in these four countries envision coming from normalization deals with Israel.
• “If more Arab states had normal ties with Israel, they would have greater leverage to apply pressure to help secure rights for Palestinians.”
• “Arab states have tried boycotts and sanctions, which have not worked. In my opinion, offering incentives to Israel may change its behavior.”
• “I recognize that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict isn’t going to be solved any time soon, but the killing has to stop, so we should choose peace.”
• “Because Israel is an advanced economy and because the Israeli-Palestinian conflict isn’t going to be solved any time soon, it’s important that Arab states consider their own needs and take advantage of trade and investment opportunities in Israel.”
• “Because Iran threatens the region, and Arab states and Israel share a concern with Iranian interference in the Arab world, relations with Israel would be in our interests.”
• “I am resigned to the fact that it is happening anyway.”
All Arab respondents, regardless of their views on normalization, were asked what areas should be explored if some Arab states proceed with normalization.
The top choice for Emiratis (55%), Saudis (40%), and Jordanians (36%) was “furthering shared interests around climate change, water and food security, technology, and advanced science,” Zogby found.
In Egypt, the top choice was “mutually beneficial increases in trade and investment in health care and education” (37%).
“Working together to confront regional challenges from extremism to Iran” was desirable to between 21% and 36% of Arab respondents.
Approximately 1-in-5 said that “increasing tourism” would be worthwhile to explore if Arab states proceed with normalization.
About 1-in-3 Jordanians and Saudis, one-quarter of Egyptians, and 16% of Emiratis responded they thought that none of these areas would be desirable.
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