If I were an Arab leader, I would never sign an agreement with Israel…They see but one thing: we have come and we have stolen their country. Why would they accept that?”
– Ben Gurion
Ironically Ben Gurion aptly summarized modern Arab opinion of Israel. From Morocco to the Gulf, there is zero acceptance of Israel’s presence in the Middle East. To them, Israel is nothing more than a European colony built on stolen Palestinian land. In the most recent Arab opinion index 84% do not support normalizing relations with Israel, the most common objection being Israel is a “colonialist occupying power in Palestine”. Even in Morocco, the most pro-Israel Arab country, only 20% of the population supports normalization.
Discussing this while living in Jordan earlier this year, I found that the vast majority of Jordanians had exactly the same opinion; ‘Israel stole Palestine from the Palestinians’.
Further, even an Arab regime recognizing Israel doesn’t cause its population to feel any warmer towards Israel. Recognizing Israel and establishing full diplomatic relations made virtually no difference to public support for Israel in the UAE, with the proportion of Emiratis supporting recognition of Israel rising a measly two percent.
This perception of Israel could impede one of Zionism’s primary goals: to make Israel an equal member of the global community of nations. This relies on Israel being accepted by other nations, and especially on the Arab world having normal relations with Israel.
Support from the Arab regimes cannot provide any long-term normalization of Israel without the support of the Arab peoples themselves. Though the regimes appear durable, they are extremely fragile and vulnerable to internal unrest or shifting regional politics. Therefore normalizing relations with Israel without the support of the populace could prove completely pointless.
Instead, to be permanently normalized, Israel needs to stop acting as an occupying power. Settlements need to be dismantled. The siege on Gaza needs to be lifted. A just solution needs to be found for the refugees. Most importantly though, the Palestinians need a state of their own to exercise their right to self-determination.
Only then may Israel be able to achieve a recognition in the Arab world which is more than just a temporary alliance of convenience with brutal authoritarians.
The road to Riyadh goes through Ramallah.