In a new effort to move forward the objective of normalization with Muslim countries, Israel is now working on the idea of using Portuguese football star Cristiano Ronaldo’s fame to normalize ties with Saudi Arabia.
In this regard, the report noted that from the day that Ronaldo joined Al-Nassr Football Club in the kingdom, Israel’s Foreign Ministry is considering the idea of recruiting the football star for this very purpose. “For Israel, the 38-year-old’s high-profile celebrity status and large social media following could be used effectively by in a normalization drive with Saudi Arabia. However, the ministry is still discussing the idea and no official decision has been made”, the report said.
Before Ronaldo joined Al-Nassr, the Saudi football club had only 800,000 followers on Instagram, a figure that is now 12 million. Ronaldo, also known as CR7, was previously playing for Real Madrid and Manchester United before joining the Riyadh-based team in late December on a two-and-a-half-year contract worth over $200 million. Thanks to the money from selling oil, Saudi Arabia is paying the highest salary ever in football to Ronaldo.
Why Israel wants to use Ronaldo?
Ronaldo has previously promoted Israeli companies, having appeared in several advertisements for Israeli telecommunications firm HOT. In 2017, for example, he sold one of his five Ballon d’Or trophies to Israel’s richest man, Idan Ofer, in a charity auction for the Make-A-Wish foundation.
Also back in 2016, Ronaldo played in a minute-long commercial show alongside three Israeli comedians who debated the footballer’s speed with that of the company’s cable connection.
But the video caused a lot of trouble for the football star, who was 31 years old back then, with a number of Ronaldo’s 40.4million Twitter followers responding to him with tweets including #freepalestine. Many of Ronaldo’s fans also said after the video that they have “lost respect” for the player.
Israel’s efforts will produce zero results
Despite there being no formal diplomatic ties between Tel Aviv and Riyadh, Israel has been lately doing its best to include Saudi Arabia into the Abraham Accords and normalize relations with the Kingdom.
Netanyahu, who returned to power as Israel’s Prime Minister in December with the formation of a new, ultra-rightwing government, was the main figure behind the 2020 Abraham Accords with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Morocco. And now that he is back, there are hopes inside Israel that the kingdom will be the next Arab state to sign the Accords and normalize relations with Israel. However, there are signs that Saudi Arabia is not going to open its arms to Israel any time soon, if not never.
It was last month in January that Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al-Saud said that his country “will not normalize relations with Israel until Palestinians are granted statehood.”
Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Farhan Al-Saud also noted that “true normalization and true stability will only come through giving Palestine hope. Through giving the Palestinians dignity, and that requires giving the Palestinians a state”.
Last but not least, the results of a new survey show that the vast majority of Arabs continue oppose establishing diplomatic ties with Israel about two years after the Abraham Accords. According to the 2022 Arab Opinion Index, “a survey of 33,300 individual respondents in 14 Arab countries, showed only very small percentages sympathetic to their country establishing relations with Israel”.