While King Salman has maintained that normalising ties with Israel was out of the question without the resolution of the Palestinian issue, his son Crown Prince MBS seeks to change the Saudi public perception towards Jews.

Saudi Arabia's King Salman is keeping the Israel normalisation cards close to his chest, as the kingdom is yet to reveal its final position over the question of warming up to Tel Aviv. 

While its two key regional allies, the UAE and Bahrain, have made their ties with Israel public earlier this month, Saudi, the Gulf's heavyweight has instead decided to first change the public perception towards Jewish people, which amounts to a "soft normalisation" in the eyes of regional experts. 

Speaking to TRT World, Talha Abdulrazaq, an expert on the Middle East and an award-winning academic, said that with a few exceptions, such as King Faisal and the oil crisis of 1973, “Saudi Arabia has always avoided conflict with Israel.” 

“It has long been Saudi policy to allow other Arabs to shoulder that particular burden, and they even surrendered the Tiran and Sanafir islands in the Red Sea to Egypt to avoid having borders with the Jewish State that would necessitate its involvement in conflict.”

MBS's approach is aimed at preparing the Saudi public to warm to the idea of seeing Israel as an ally of Saudi Arabia, and for that, the softening of public perception toward the Zionist state is the first step. 

According to Abdulrazaq, Riyadh has always favoured either non-conflict or soft normalisation with Israel, "but as their stature has grown with the demise of the traditional Arab powers of Iraq, Syria, and Egypt, Saudi Arabia has had to engage with the Palestinian plight and it is why it proposed the Arab Peace Initiative."

MBS is preparing to revise school books that show Jewish people in a bad light. 

"The Saudi government has also decided to prohibit the disparagement of Jews and Christians in mosques," Saudi analyst Najah al-Otaibi told AFP.

"Anti-Jewish rhetoric was common at Friday prayers of the imams in mosques used to address Muslims around the world."

The kingdom's officials, religious figures and bureaucrats, have started sending warm messages, invoking the history of the Prophet Muhammad. A Saudi preacher recently spoke of the Prophet's friendly relations with Jewish people. In light of the changing political realities between Israel and the Arab states, the preacher's comparison drew public criticism on social media. 

Saudi cleric, Mohammed al-Issa, who heads the Muslim World League, travelled to Poland for events marking 75 years of the liberation of the Nazi death camp, Auschwitz. His attendance was praised by Israel

The Kingdom had scheduled the screening of a Holocoust-themed film to be shown, but the organisation cancelled it due to the coronavirus pandemic.

In February, Saudi King Salman hosted a Jerusalem-based rabbi, David Rosen, for the first time in the kingdom’s modern history.

Abdulrazaq believes Saudi Arabia will continue its policy of soft-normalisation by allowing its allies to normalise, using them as backchannels whenever they need to speak with Israel. 

“By allowing Israeli aircraft to fly over Saudi airspace, they are letting the world know that, while they still pay lip service to the Palestinian cause, they are in effect condoning what their allies are doing,” he added. 

Abdulrazaq also underlined Palestinians have nothing to really offer the Saudis in terms of their major national interests, whereas Israel has a lot of sway and power in the United States.

“They (Israel and Saudi Arabia) all have a shared interest in isolating Iran, along with the UAE and Bahrain. As such, Riyadh is adopting a pragmatic policy, not one born of ideals and principle.”

Data from a rare Saudi public opinion poll published last month by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, suggests many Saudi citizens are not in favour of a deal.

"What peace? Peace after all that (Israel) has done, killing and war?" Bader, a young Saudi citizen in Riyadh, told AFP. "It's difficult for this to happen between (Saudis and Israelis). I won't support it."

Source: TRT World