A year after the US-brokered Abraham Accords, which established diplomatic ties between Israel and four Arab countries, public opinion in the Persian Gulf states has turned sour on the controversial agreements.
According to opinion polls commissioned by the Washington Institute, a US-based think tank, only 27 percent of respondents in the UAE and 20 percent in Bahrain viewed the accords as positive for the region. That compares with 47 percent and 45 percent in 2020 when the accords were billed as part of a process that may encourage Israel to also work on its conflict with the Palestinians.
The surveys also showed that support for the accords fell by half to 20 percent in Saudi Arabia, which has not normalized relations with Israel amid a push by Washington for the kingdom to follow in its neighbors’ footsteps.
The decline in popular support for the normalization deals can be attributed to several factors, including the increasing Israeli hostility in occupied Palestinian territories, the limited benefits of the accords for the Persian Gulf countries, and the change of administration in the US.
In May, Israel launched a brutal 11-day assault on Gaza that killed more than 250 Palestinians, including 66 children, and wounded more than 1,900 others. The attack sparked widespread condemnation and protests across the Arab world, including in countries that signed the accords with Israel.
The normalization deals have also exposed the limitations of any potential benefits that Persian Gulf countries expected to receive, particularly in the case of the UAE. At the time of the deal between Israel and the UAE, the accords allegedly included a “secret clause” for the US to sell F-35 fighter jets to Abu Dhabi. However, the Biden administration has put the sale on hold pending a review of US arms policy in the region.
Moreover, the change of administration in the US has reduced the pressure and incentives for Persian Gulf countries to normalize ties with Israel. The Trump administration had offered various rewards for countries that joined the accords, such as removing Sudan from the list of state sponsors of terrorism and recognizing Morocco’s sovereignty over Western Sahara. The Biden administration, on the other hand, has adopted a more balanced approach to the Middle East and has expressed support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The Washington Institute’s polls suggest that public opinion in Persian Gulf countries is not indifferent to the plight of Palestinians and that normalization with Israel is not a popular or sustainable policy without addressing the core issue of occupation. As one analyst commented, “Public opinion matters more to the calculations of leaders in the Persian Gulf than many observers think”.