In the latest sign of warming relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia, the state-run media have lowered the level of hostility toward their Jewish neighbors and the prospect of normalization is being discussed for the first time, The Jerusalem Post reported on Tuesday.
Recent reports of informal contacts between officials of the two countries have now been followed by a softening of treatment of Israel in such outlets as al Arabiya and Riyadh newspapers. The villification of Israel as the source of all evil and the enemy of all Arabs has been replaced with a more moderate approach, which observers take as an indication that the leadership is seeking to prepare the people for a diplomatic shift.
“The key here is that everybody understands this is not going to turn around overnight, and it’s probably not going to convince a lot of people. But that’s not really the point,” said David Pollock, an expert on the region at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “The point is to establish this as a debatable proposition, and to break the taboo of even debating about it– about the prospect of normalizing relations.”
“Once you’ve done that, you’ve made it legitimate,” Pollock added. “There are suddenly two sides.”
An official in the Israeli Foreign Ministry agreed there was a positive change, but cautioned that it should not be exaggerated.
“These are positive signs, but I would not say they are game changers,” the official said. “Good things are happening. But rather than seeing this as trying to prepare the ground for something, I’d say it is a sign that there is less enmity.”
A source in the Prime Minister’s Office sees it the same way. While acknowledging a few columns from “some pretty big journalists” that suggested hating Jews was no longer in the national interest, he has no information that the change has been directed from the top.
However, that might make it even more significant; not an orchestrated campaign but a spontaneous breaking down of anti-Israel attitudes at a lower level. If so, it could mean that an eventual move toward formal relations with Israel would meet with a receptive public, making it easier to achieve.