An overwhelming majority of the Arab world holds a negative view of the United States over its support for Israel in its war against Hamas, and lacks confidence that Washington is serious about helping establish a Palestinian state, according to a landmark survey published Thursday.
The survey polled a representative sample of 8,000 individuals across 16 countries in the Arab world, described as the first of its kind to measure Arab public opinion on the Israeli war on Gaza in the wake of Hamas’s Oct. 7 terrorist attack on Israel, and Arab perceptions of the U.S. role and policies toward the war.
The poll was conducted by the Arab Center Washington DC in cooperation with the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies. The survey questions included ones gauging attitudes toward the roles of international and regional actors and Arab public opinion of the U.S. role and interests.
“As people in the Arab world watched Israel’s devastating war on Gaza, with the full support of the United States, we sought to conduct a survey to gauge our public opinion of the war, and of the U.S. position towards the war, and its impact on U.S. policies, interests and relations in the region,” said Tamara Kharroub, deputy executive director and senior fellow at the Arab Center Washington DC.
The survey comes as the U.S. is making a concerted push to achieve a temporary cease-fire between Israel and Hamas to allow for the release of Israeli hostages held in the Gaza Strip, the scale-up of humanitarian aid deliveries to Gaza, reconstruction and space for diplomacy to discuss an end to the war.
The Biden administration is also working to normalize relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia as part of efforts to resolve the war against Hamas, a deal that is viewed as contingent on a pathway to a Palestinian state, but in no way viewed as an easy goal to achieve.
But attitudes reflected in the survey show the Arab world holding an overwhelmingly negative view of the U.S. position. Half of respondents described the U.S. as enabling Israel’s “war on Gaza,” and 81 percent expressed views that the U.S. government is “not serious in working to establish a Palestinian state in the 1967 occupied territories” — referring to the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Shibley Telhami, professor for peace and development at the University of Maryland and a member of the academic advisory board of the Arab Center Washington DC, said the results of the poll were not surprising but helped confirm the public reaction.
Still, Telhami called it a “really a historic moment where maybe this is impactful on the perceptions of an all new, young generation in the Arab world in a way that is likely to last way beyond the moment. And I don’t take that lightly.”
“So the real question is whether the intensity of anger is on a new scale in a way that could have behavioral consequences, both for the public in the Middle East, and for the way the public influences governments in the Middle East,” he added.
Respondents’ perceptions of the reasons for Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack on Israel said that the most important reasons for the “military operation” were “the ongoing Israeli occupation of Palestinian land” at 35 percent and “defending al-Aqsa mosque against attacks” at 24 percent — referring to the Islamic holy site in Jerusalem where Israel holds control over permission to enter the grounds.
When asked about the countries that most threaten the security and stability of the Arab region, 51 percent of respondents said that the policies of the United States are the most threatening.
This sentiment has increased compared with previous years, with negative Arab views of the U.S. in 2022 at 39 percent, in 2020 at 44 percent and in 2018 at 43 percent.
Opinions were split on views of Russia and China, with 41 percent of respondents viewing Moscow’s position as positive and 40 percent viewing the Chinese position as positive.
For opinions of Arab and Gulf countries, a majority of respondents held negative views of Arab allies of the U.S. and those countries with ties to Israel — with 67 percent viewing the position of the United Arab Emirates as “bad or very bad,” 64 percent having a negative view of Saudi Arabia’s position and 54 percent viewing the Egyptian position as “bad or very bad.”
There were also negative views of the position of the Palestinian Authority — 54 percent — and 45 percent viewed Jordan’s position negatively, though 40 percent said its position is “very good” and “good.”
Qatar, heavily relied on as a mediator by the U.S., Israel and Hamas, had 51 percent of respondents holding a positive view of the country’s position.
While only 14 percent put responsibility on Arab governments for failing to rein in Israel’s war in Gaza, the survey polled opinions on how the Arab public wants their governments to respond.
This includes 36 percent of respondents calling for Arab governments with ties to Israel to cancel all relations or the normalization process, 14 percent saying aid and support should be brought into Gaza without Israeli approval and 11 percent believing Arab governments “must use the oil card to put pressure on Israel and its supporters.”
Still, less than 10 percent of respondents wanted Arab governments to “establish a global alliance to boycott Israel” or “provide military aid to Gaza,” and less than 5 percent of respondents supported ideas that include announcing military mobilization, reconsidering relations with the U.S., reconsidering relations with states that support Israel’s war on Gaza or supporting “alliances with states that have taken practical steps against Israel.”
The poll is part of a larger survey called the Arab Opinion Index, which has been conducted annually in the Arab world since 2011. It is the largest public opinion survey covering the Middle East and North Africa.