International News Oct 19, 2020 1:00 PM EST

POLL: Majority of Saudis favour normalizing ties with Israel

According to a new Zogby Research Poll, nearly 80 percent of Saudis are in favor of working towards normalizing ties with Israel within the next five years.

POLL: Majority of Saudis favour normalizing ties with Israel
Ari Hoffman Seattle, WA
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According to a new Zogby Research Poll, nearly 80 percent of Saudis are in favor of working towards normalizing ties with Israel within the next five years, with 71 percent even thinking it likely that other Arab states will normalize ties without a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians.

The study surveyed attitudes among 1,005 Israeli respondents and 3,600 Arab respondents from five different countries including Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Palestine and Jordan, from June 24 to July 5.

"The surveys focused on attitudes toward: the prospects of reaching a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; Israel’s impending annexation of West Bank lands; the desirability of some Arab states normalizing relations with Israel; and the impact that annexation would have on normalization."

This was over a month before the peace deals between Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain were announced, but after the announcement of US President Donald Trump's peace plan which would have resulted in the annexation of 30 percent of the West Bank.

As a result of the peace deals, annexation was pulled off the table. However, 70 percent of all Arab respondents did insist that despite the many benefits of normalizing relations with the Jewish state, annexation would mean the end of their support.

Even with annexation as a possibility at the time, the survey still showed that many Arabs were in favor of normalizing ties with Israel, provided steps were taken to achieve peace with the Palestinians. Despite the importance placed on resolving the conflict, a majority of Arab respondents thought that some Arab states were still likely to establish ties with Israel without the conflict ending.

Arab respondents were optimistic about how quickly the conflict could be resolved, with the lowest percentages being 53 percent from Jordan and 57 percent from Palestinians and the highest being the UAE with 76 percent.

Most Israelis, 67 percent, also believe they should form similar deals with other Arab nations, most suggesting Saudi Arabia. However, among Arab respondents, nearly half, 48 percent, said Israelis should focus on resolving the conflict with the Palestinians, while only 29 percent were in favor of new ties with Arab states.

According to sources in the Israeli government, Saudi Arabia could be the next Arab country to normalize relations with Israel. Last month Saudi Arabia announced that it will allow flights from "all countries" to cross over its airspace on flights to or from the United Arab Emirates. The news followed last month's first-ever Israeli nonstop flight to Abu Dhabi, which for the first time crossed through Saudi airspace,  was announced by the state-owned Saudi Press Agency.

"An official source at the General Authority of Civil Aviation (GACA) has stated that the Authority approved the request received from the General Civil Aviation Authority in the United Arab Emirates, which includes the desire to allow flights coming to and departing from the United Arab Emirates to all countries to pass through the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia's airspace," the SPA said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hailed the announcement as a "huge breakthrough" that will help the Israeli economy and reduce airfares.

Netanyahu thanked Jared Kushner, a senior adviser and Jewish son-in-law to US President Donald Trump, and the UAE's de facto ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed for their "important contribution" in bringing about the new Saudi policy. Sunday, Israel's Transport Ministry expanded the deal by signing a flight agreement with the UAE to begin flights on a weekly basis between Tel Aviv and Abu Dhabi and Dubai.

However, Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan stressed on Twitter that the opening of Saudi airspace to flights between Israel and the UAE does not change "the Kingdom's firm and established positions toward the Palestinian cause and the Palestinian people." He added that Riyadh "appreciates all efforts aimed at achieving a just and lasting peace in accordance with the Arab Peace Initiative" a plan that envisions full normalization between Israel and the Arab world in return for Israel's withdrawal to the 1967 lines and the creation of a Palestinian state.

For Saudi Arabia, peace with Israel has always been contingent on an agreement with the Palestinians, but other signs in the kingdom indicate change may already be underway, and that any breakthrough would have to come from the heir to the throne, Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman.

The conflicting messages on the Saudis developing ties with Israel come from a split between the 35-year-old crown prince and his 84-year-old father, King Salman, on how they view national interests, the Associated Press reported, citing analysts and insiders. Rabbi Marc Schneier, an adviser to Bahrain's king who has held talks in Saudi Arabia and with other Gulf countries on establishing stronger ties with Israel, told AP that the crown prince's brother, Prince Khalid bin Salman, the Saudi ambassador to the US, said the heir's top priority is reforming the Saudi economy. "He said these exact words: 'We will not be able to succeed without Israel.' So for the Saudis, it's not a question of 'if,' it's a question of 'when.' And there's no doubt that they will establish relations with Israel," the rabbi said.

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