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Updated December 23rd, 2023 at 14:42 IST

Headache for Biden? Poll says most Saudis want Arab nations to break ties with Israel

The poll result, showing overwhelming support for breaking ties with Israel, highlights the complexity of the American agenda of normalising Israel-Arab ties.

Arnav Jha
Most Saudis appose Israel relations following outbreak of Gaza conflict.
Following the outbreak of the conflict in Gaza, most Saudis now oppose relations with Israel according to a new poll. | Image:AP
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A new poll released by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy conducted between November 14 and December 6 shows that, of the 1,000 Saudis polled, 96 percent oppose any attempts by the Arab nations to establish ties with Israel. Notably, the poll also showed a significant increase in the Saudi population's support for Hamas in its ongoing conflict against Israel, with 40 percent of the Saudis expressing support for Hamas as opposed to around 10 percent before the incident of October 7. 

In contrast to this, only around 16 percent of the poll respondents supported the assertion that Hamas should stop calling for the destruction of Israel and constructively engage with the nation towards the realisation of the two-state solution. 

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Additionally, 95 per cent of the respondents also expressed skepticism over reports of Israeli civilian deaths due to the October 7 attack carried out by Hamas and its affiliates. This mirrors the results of the polls conducted in several other Arab nations.

These recent findings underscore the difficult spot that the US is finding itself in, as it seeks to carry on with its long-term plan of normalising Israel's ties with the Arab world – a move that was expected to gain momentum before October 7, after the US mediated negotiations between Israel and Saudi Arabia. 

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The results of this poll contradict a common perspective that younger generations of Saudis are more business-savvy and less ideological and, thus, would not be quite so opposed to the idea of building ties with Israel. 

What's worth noting at this juncture of the geopolitics is that even before the conflict, Saudi Arabia was close to clinching a normalisation deal with Israel that would have come with attached benefits for Riyadh which ranged from new security guarantees from the American side to support for a Saudi civilian nuclear programme. Now, the deal is stuck in limbo as Saudi Arabia attempts to negotiate a diplomatic end to the conflict in Gaza. 

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Saudi Arabia is believed to be an authoritarian nation under the direct rule of the House of Saud and, as such, the nation's leadership does not necessarily need to set aside the normalisation deal with Israel on account of negative public perception. Consequently, this negative perception is likely to affect when and how the deal can now be carried out, subject to the end of the ongoing conflict. Saudi Arabia, for instance, may impose more significant pre-conditions for this normalisation deal in the future, including some visible concessions from the Israeli side for Palestinian statehood demands. 

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Published December 23rd, 2023 at 14:40 IST

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