Opinion

Netanyahu Can't Count on the Gulf Peace Deals for Political Salvation

In Israel, peace is popular – but it barely moves the polls. Not least when a pandemic is raging

Dahlia Scheindlin
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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, stands with U.S. President Donald Trump after signing the Abraham Accords at the White House, September 15, 2020.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, stands with U.S. President Donald Trump after signing the Abraham Accords at the White House, September 15, 2020. Credit: TOM BRENNER/ REUTERS
Dahlia Scheindlin

Who doesn’t love peace? 

A poll two weeks ahead of the signing ceremony at the White House on Tuesday showed that over three-quarters of Israelis believe the Israel-UAE deal (later augmented by a preliminary deal with Bahrain) will benefit Israel’s economy, tourism, and diplomacy. In a different poll, a similar three-quarters majority preferred the Emirati deal to the annexation Netanyahu postponed for peace.

Then how to explain Likud’s stagnant poll numbers? Snapshot surveys immediately after the initial UAE announcement in August led to confused headlines as to whether Likud rose a few seats or dropped one, compared to the previous week. 

This article is part of a series: Ten experts break down the Israel-UAE-Bahrain accords. Read them all here

But all recent surveys give Netanyahu’s party three to seven seats fewer the 36 it won in March, and well below peak polling in the lower 40s during the spring. His arch-rival Naftali Bennett just keeps rising.

The answers are no mystery. Last spring was Israel’s grace period between a well-contained first wave, and a disastrous second wave of COVID-19. By August, the threat of closure was clear; in September it closed in. Unemployment, government chaos and a stinging Hamas rocket attack on Ashdod during the signing are blunt reminders that grand ceremonies solve little at home. Most Israelis can’t afford Dubai hotels now.

If Netanyahu was counting on the Gulf deals for political salvation, he might have recalled that his costly speech in Congress ahead of the 2015 elections did nothing for Likud’s polls, until he resorted to late-stage populism. Throughout 2019, his billboards with Trump and Putin, his pop-up peace overtures with Chad and Oman failed to deliver outright victories, three times over. 

Netanyahu's Gulf deals have advanced peace in the region. But for voters, there’s no place like home. 

Dahlia Scheindlin is a political scientist and public opinion expert. Twitter: @dahliasc

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