Lindsay J Benstead, “Shifting Attitudes in the Arab World toward Israel: The Importance of Public Diplomacy [JB emphasis] ,” CPD Perspectives on Public Diplomacy (2019)
Image from article: Image 1. Graffiti in solidarity with Palestine, central Tunis, 2012. Lindsay Benstead.
How do Arab citizens view Israel and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and what does this mean for US public diplomacy? To what extent have attitudes shifted since 2006, and should US public diplomacy strategies change accordingly? This article assesses national-level public opinion toward diplomatic, security, and economic relations with Israel using new Arab Barometer data from fifteen Arab countries spanning a ten year period between 2006 and 2016. Several findings emerge. First, support for recognizing Israel if a two-state solution is reached with the Palestinians declined between 2006 and 2013 in six countries — Lebanon, Iraq, and North Africa (including Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, and Egypt) — but increased in four others — Sudan, Jordan, Palestine, and Yemen. Second, since 2011, support declined in Egypt for maintaining the Egypt-Israel treaty, though a majority still support maintaining it, and fewer than half of Palestinians and Jordanians support maintaining their agreements with Israel. Arab citizens widely see external interference as a problem —and many blame the US and Israel for creating Da’esh . Yet support for the US to help solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has also increased since 2011 in many countries. Many citizens do wish to have US development support, but listening sessions are needed to better understand the forms of support that are welcomed since the types of activities demanded varies. And in some types of countries — namely transitional countries (including Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt)
— US involvement appears to be least welcomed. These findings have significant implications for how Western governments plan for and conduct public diplomacy, especially as it relates to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Despite diminishing support for recognizing Israel in some countries, increasing demand for the US to play a role in peacemaking in the years preceding the move of the US Embassy to Jerusalem suggests a window of opportunity in which to support peace efforts. Rather than focusing on direct diplomacy only, the US and other western nations should listen to and acknowledge rising frustration among Arab citizens as they support efforts to improve human development and peace prospects. Key words: Public diplomacy, public opinion toward foreign policy, Arab-Israeli Conflict, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Arab spring, Middle East and North Africa, Arab world. …
Conclusion and Implication …
The data hold an important take away for public diplomacy practitioners. If extra-regional contributions to peacebuilding and democratic consolidation are to be meaningful and effective then the population must be receptive. Public outreach on security, economic, and political development policy must be a two-way street of presenting to and hearing from the foreign publics. Engagement must be complemented by more than mere acquiescence by the local population, but by an active effort to listen to and offer the forms of assistance and support that are seen as helpful by Arab citizens. The types of support that the population desires must also be taken into account. Educational exchange and trade and investment are pathways for positive engagement that are widely welcomed by Arab citizens. When it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, these efforts are key. Thus despite diminishing support for recognizing Israel in some countries, an increasing willingness by others to recognize Israel and increased demand for a US role in peacemaking across the Arab world before the US moved its Embassy to Jerusalem should engagement while the window of opportunity is open. But important challenges remain. All societies are diverse and any form of support will not be welcomed by all groups. These challenges only underscore the necessity of public diplomacy efforts to listen to and communicate with citizens in order to promote development and foreign policy objectives.