As much as the results of the US elections are important to Americans, they are also important for many countries that have benefited or lost due to President Donald Trump’s foreign policies
In the Middle East, especially, many are eagerly awaiting the outcome of the result, because it will impact their interests and future domestic and foreign postures. Turkey, for example, hopes that Trump will win because of the barrage of criticism by Joe Biden against Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan due to human rights issues. Biden promised to impose sanctions on Ankara if he enters the White House.
Biden could also work on improving Washington’s relations with the EU, unlike Trump who clashed with key EU states over their financial contributions to NATO’s budget and the US’s trade policies with China and Europe and over how best to deal with Iran. Closer ties with Europe are probable if Biden wins, which would also create a strong front in dealing with Turkey and would deny Erdogan his margin of manoeuvrability, which he has taken advantage of until now to block any pressure on Ankara to change its policies in Libya, Syria and the Middle East.
Egypt and most Gulf countries do not want Biden, who is usually described as “Obama’s shadow”, inside the White House, out of concern there will be a repeat of previous attempts during Obama’s tenure to change the face of the Middle East by creating chaos there. This resulted in a humanitarian catastrophe after the ravages of civil war and power struggles triggered by these policies that are still plaguing the region.
Iran, on the other hand, is in a different position to Turkey, Egypt and Gulf countries. Tehran has deep disputes with the US that will continue whether Biden or Trump wins, since Iran knows that Biden lifting US sanctions against Iran will be difficult or impossible without it agreeing to return to negotiations with countries that signed the nuclear deal in 2015. The US withdrew from the deal under Trump.
Iran understands that Biden could change his rhetoric towards Tehran, but will insist on pushing more restrictions on its nuclear and ballistic missiles programmes, as well as it abandoning its policy of interfering in neighbouring countries, especially Iraq.
Israel is the sole Middle East country that is not concerned about the outcome of the US elections. A Trump win would mean continued encouragement of Arab countries to normalise relations with Israel, pursuant to the UAE, Bahrain and Sudan most recently
It would be difficult for Biden’s administration to walk back Trump’s pro-Israel decisions, including the relocation of the US embassy to Jerusalem, or US recognition of the legitimacy of Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, or US recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Syrian Golan Heights. A report published on the Israeli website i24new.
tv revealed meetings took place between Biden’s campaign team and several Palestinian figures close to the Palestinian Authority (PA). According to sources, Biden promised to reverse some of Trump’s decisions against the Palestinians, such as the closure of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) office in Washington, the merging of the US consulate in Jerusalem with the US embassy in Israel, and suspending aid to the PA and UNRWA.
Clearly, Biden’s promises to the Palestinians only reverse minor Trump decisions that barely impact the core of Palestinian interests. Biden did not say he intends to change key decisions that Palestinians view as an assault on their rights, such as US recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel or recognising settlements as legitimate.
Israel is amenable to a “calculated” amount of US support to the PA to prevent the latter from strengthening its ties to countries hostile to Israel, such as Iran, or countries that adopt policies that disagree with Israel, such as Turkey. Neither would Israel be upset if Biden wins and decides to reverse the US’s commitment to the “Deal of the Century” proposed by Trump, replacing it with a US plan to relaunch talks between Israel and the Palestinians — the process of choice of former president Barack Obama. The “Deal of the Century” forced Israel to accept a Palestinian state alongside it, within a border at odds with Israel’s vision of its border security. Therefore, even if Biden scraps the deal, Israel will not shed any tears.
A return to negotiations with the Palestinians is not a bad thing for Israel and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu who nimbly handled the issue of talks with Palestinians during Obama’s two terms.
During Obama’s first four-year term, Netanyahu was able to continue procrastinating, to resist Washington’s insistence on starting talks, by wasting negotiation sessions on peripheral issues and avoiding key topics, such as the borders of an anticipated Palestinian state, the fate of East Jerusalem, and the rights of Palestinian refugees. In the end, the Palestinians withdrew from the talks and Obama failed to convince them to return. This gave Israel the opportunity to claim that the Palestinians were the ones holding up talks, not Tel Aviv.
More precisely, Israel, which in the past was able to undermine US-sponsored talks, is capable of repeating the same if Biden wins and keeps his promise of relaunching talks under US auspices.
Overall, Biden is unlikely to adopt any decisions that would harm Israeli interests, not only because reversing all of Trump’s policies would be impossible, but also due to the very influential Jewish lobby in Congress and many other governing bodies in Washington.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 5 November, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly
This lobby would remain strong enough to obstruct any whims by the White House that are not in Israel’s interests.