21:55 GMT17 April 2021
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    While in Saudi Arabia, the notion of an opposition coming to power in Israel, stirs unease, in Kuwait, the leadership doesn't seem to care, who comes to power in the Jewish state, as long as the Palestinian issue is resolved.

    In less than 48 hours, when Israel goes to the polls for the fourth time in less than two years, all eyes will be on the developments in Jerusalem.

    Ahmed Al Ibrahim, a Riyadh-based political analyst, says that despite his country not having official relations with Israel, it will be closely following how the elections unfold.

    Netanyahu As a Safer Option

    For Al Ibrahim, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is the safest bet.

    "In the Arab world, we are used to Bibi. He has a charismatic personality, he is giving, proactive and dynamic and he delivers on his promises. So when you have somebody like this, you know you have a partner."

    Support for the Israeli PM in the Gulf has grown following the normalisation deals he struck with five Muslim nations that previously had no relations with Israel: the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan, Morocco and Kosovo.

    More importantly, however, he has been appreciated for his remarks and actions against Iran and its nuclear programme, which is considered a threat by the Jewish state, Saudi Arabia and a number of their allies, allegations that the Islamic Republic rejects. 

    Perceived as Mr. Security in Israel and now also in the Middle East, Netanyahu is seen as someone who can protect the region from threats, and this is the reason why Al Ibrahim says he would rather see the status quo in Israel's leadership unchanged. 

    Right now, it is all up in the air. Recent media polls show that Netanyahu's Likud party will retain the title of Israel's biggest party. But it is far from certain that he will manage to garnish the 61 seats needed to form a government

    Meanwhile, voices that demand to oust the longest-serving Israeli PM are getting louder. According to the same media polls, the anti-Netanyahu bloc is currently standing at 55 parliamentarians, which means they only need six more seats in the Knesset to replace Netanyahu.

    This is exactly the reason why Al Ibrahim, and many others in the Gulf, he says, are worried. 

    "When we look at Israel's opposition and those who want to replace Netanyahu, we immediately go into a scare mood. We don't know their agenda and the mere thought that we might need to develop ties with them is hard to digest."

    Al Ibrahim might have good reason to worry. Israel's opposition is largely divided. Some of it, like for example the Likud defector Gideon Saar or the former minister of defence Avigdor Liberman, are known for their hawkish views, which are at times even more radical than Netanyahu's.

    Others take a more liberal approach, but when it comes to the Palestinians, they too lack a united front: they are split between those who are supportive of the two-state solution and those who are not. 

    Under such circumstances, Al Ibrahim says it will be tough for nations that don't have ties with Israel to come to terms with Israel's fragmented opposition, but his country will respect the choice of the Israeli people. 

    "We look at the other side [opposition] with caution and we obviously don't want to see the repetition of the American scenario," said the political analyst, referring to the change of US presidents that led to a shift in policy towards the Kingdom and a number of other regional players.

    "But we do care about peace. And as long as the opposition wants that too, [a normalisation deal] can be achieved. Saudis want to come to Eilat and I am sure people from Israel want to take their car and drive to Saudi Arabia, Kuwait or Oman."

    Palestinian Issue Comes First

    A different attitude is visible in neighbouring Kuwait, another Gulf state that doesn't maintain official relations with Israel and that had previously vowed to be the "last country to normalise ties" with officials in Jerusalem.

    Dr Fahed Al-Shelaimi, chairman of the Middle East Centre for Strategic and Political Studies in Kuwait, says official ties with Israel will not be possible until there's a final resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. 

    "The Kuwaiti leadership wants to see a settlement. It doesn't matter who wins that parliamentary race. As long as the Palestinian issue is not resolved, an agreement [between Kuwait and Israel] will not be possible."

    That stance is rooted in the historic bond between Kuwait and the Palestinian people.

    Throughout the years, the leadership of Kuwait has been sensitive to the plight of the Palestinians. From 1948 until 1960, the country absorbed tens of thousands of their refugees. And even after they expressed their support for then-Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein during the Iraq-Kuwait war back in the 90s, the Kuwaitis continued to give them financial and political backing, donating millions of dollars to UNRWA.

    That standing hasn't changed, reassures Al-Shelaimi, and the ball is now in Israel's court on whether to make that change possible. 

    "From our point of view, there is no differentiation between Netanyahu, Benny Gantz, Yair Lapid or anyone else. All we want to see is a dialogue."

    The problem is that it is not even on the horizon. The last round of direct negotiations between the two sides took place in 2013 and 2014, during the tenure of President Barack Obama. But after they failed, each side blamed the other for the stalemate.

    Under the presidency of Donald Trump, progress on that front hasn't been achieved either; the Trump administration chose to apply pressure on the Palestinian side rather than bridging the gap between them and the Israelis in an attempt find a solution.

    Now, however, with Joe Biden in power, that attitude might change, and Al-Shelaimi says the new administration in Washington will be applying pressure on both sides to sit at the negotiating table.

    Until that happens, Kuwait will be observing the situation patiently and it will be looking at the "pilot" launched by the UAE and Bahrain to see whether relations with Israel can actually work.

    "If they prove to be successful in the next two years, I am sure others will follow suit." 
    Tags:
    elections, Israel, Gulf States, Benjamin Netanyahu
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