16.11.2020 Author: Viktor Mikhin

Middle East in the Vortex of the US “Election”


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, with the gumption natural to him, sent his “warm congratulations” to Joe Biden on his, as the Israeli World Israel News wrote, “alleged victory in the US elections,” despite the fact that President Donald Trump has not accepted the elections by democratic means. Similar loyal feelings towards the USA were expressed by Israel’s allegedly independent President Reuven Rivlin and Deputy Prime Minister and Defense Minister Benny Gantz. In their messages, the “great love” of the vassal for his new American overlord simply ran absolute high.

However, decidedly different emotions have now overcome Israel, whose residents accepted the change of presidents in Washington with a great concern. And this is not surprising, since everyone has repeatedly noted the sharply pro-Israeli nature of the policy pursued by Donald Trump, as well as of his close relatives, some of whom are Hasideans, and of the entire Administration of the former President.

Immediately following his election in 2016, Donald Trump announced his unconditional support for Israel and a year later initiated the US Embassy moving from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem after the city was recognized as the capital of the Jewish state.   Other steps soon followed, both symbolic and tangible. The American President recognized Israeli sovereignty in the Golan Heights, sought to hold the Palestinian National Authority “liable for its support of terrorism,” and pulled the USA out of a promising, but, according to Israelis, disastrous, Iranian deal in 2015.  It is equally important that, while the President’s ambition to mediate a “final deal” between Israel and the Palestinians failed because of the latter’s refusal to make peace, his Administration has moved into more productive efforts. Unlike Barack Obama and former Secretary of State John Kerry, who actually gave the Palestinians the veto power for getting relationship between the Arab world and Israel back on track, Donald Trump initiated the conclusion of agreements to smooth relations with the United Arab Emirates, the Kingdom of Bahrain and Sudan, which, as he promised, must be followed by others. In such circumstances, it is not surprising that the majority of Israelis were in favor of Donald Trump being re-elected. But if, as it appears at the moment, they supported the losing side in the election, hysteria on consequent effect would be counterproductive and, apparently, that is why rushed and loyal congratulations to Joe Biden followed.

PNA President Mahmoud Abbas, for his part, expressly said: “I look forward to working with President-elect Biden and his government to strengthen Palestinian-American relations and achieve freedom and independence, justice and dignity for our people, and work for peace, stability and security for everyone in our region and around the world.”  According to the PNA, the Trump’s Administration was the worst one it faced, and the Palestinians broke relations with the Administration since the USA recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in December 2017.

According to the Palestinians, the Trump’s Administration reversed the ten-year US policy, which blamed Israel for the failure to reach a peace agreement, while ignoring the intransigence of the Palestinians, and fixed absolute responsibility upon the PNA, cutting off its funding for alleged “ongoing support for terror.”

Ismail Haniyeh, а leader of the Hamas that runs the Gaza Strip, said: “US President Donald Trump, who sought to make an end of the Palestinian cause, is gone and Jerusalem will stay.” The Trump’s Administration was the most extreme in its support for Israel to the detriment of the rights of the Palestinians. Ismail Haniyeh added, “We call on President-elect Joe Biden to make a historical adjustment to the discriminatory American policy towards the Palestinian people, which has caused instability in the region and the world.”

The PNA is likely to desire to forget the Trump’s Administration as a bad dream. According to Israel Hayom, a senior official working with Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinians intend to resume negotiations right where they were terminated after President Barack Obama left the White House in 2016. The official also said that Abbas wants the USA to move its embassy back to Tel Aviv. Incidentally, during the election campaign, Joe Biden stated that he would not move the embassy back, although he opposed the US embassy moving to Jerusalem. It is interesting what he will do in this quite challenging and rather delicate issue.

However, the most challenging issue remains mending differences between the USA and Iran, which is having an ever-increasing influence on the entire situation in the Middle East, the Persian Gulf and surrounding regions. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, even before the American “elections”, firmly stated that the Islamic Republic has no interest whatsoever in the results of the US presidential elections in 2020, since the next incumbent President would have to “surrender to the Iranian people.” According to the Tasnim News Agency, he argued that, since the Islamic Revolution in 1979, all actions of the USA against the Iranian people “had ended in failure,” noting that the lifting of the UN arms embargo on Iran was an evidence of the victory of Islamic rationalism over American power.

As Joe Biden’s chief foreign policy spokesman Anthony Blinken (the current favorite as his national security adviser) hinted, there is still a chance that the United States will maintain Trump’s sanctions against Iran. It means that the most important challenge, for both Israel and Jewish groups, in the coming months will not be the resumption of the 2015 political battles. By all appearances, it should be a desire to convince Joe Biden, as Israel’s Haaretz noted, that he should not yield to the temptation to just erase the last “four years of progress” made towards putting pressure on Iran to renegotiate the nuclear deal to strip it of the positions that set Tehran on a certain path to achieve its nuclear ambitions.

Likewise, on the Palestinian issue, it would be wise for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and pro-Israel Americans to assume, rightly or not, as Haaretz advises, that Joe Biden does not feel obligated to take up the “sticks of Barack Obama’s policy,” which he knows was a terrible setback for Israel itself. Joe Biden’s support for Israel has always been driven by his insistence that he knew better than the leaders of the Jewish state what was best for their country. No matter how infuriating it may be, it is also true that he holds more affection for the country than Barack Obama ever has. Even if Joe Biden spends precious political capital on policy based on meaningless demands for Israel to surrender its rights and security, as Barack Obama did, or in the next lap of pacifying Iran, Israel should not bow to the US pressure.  According to the Israeli newspaper, as Netanyahu proved during the eight challenging years of the Obama’s Administration, Israel can always say “no” to the USA when it is sure it must defend its interests from “misguided” American politicians.

Likewise, Israeli political scientists believe that Israel is both economically and militarily stronger than it was in 2009. And while it still needs friendship with its sole superpower ally, it doesn’t have to tremble in fear before Joe Biden more than it did before Barack Obama. Israel still has many friends in American politics, and it can and should point to the principles of Donald Trump’s “peace to prosperity” plan as the only solid foundation for a possible resolution of the conflict with the Palestinians.   It is wise to prepare for the worst, although this is not the only possible outcome. Joe Biden’s Administration will have more than it can handle to deal with the challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic, economy, infrastructure and other critical issues. According to Tel Aviv, the obstinate refusal of Barack Obama’s veterans to admit that they were wrong about the Palestinians the last time they were in office, would be an unforgivable mistake on the part of Joe Biden, which will do him no good.

In any case, the Middle East region still remains in the entourage of the West, led by the USA, which means that the turbulence appropriate to this area will not end any day soon. And the struggle of the Arab people of Palestine for their rights will steadily be continued, as well as the relations between Israel and the Arab world will not be easy, regardless of whose Administration is staying at the White House for the time being.

Viktor Mikhin, corresponding member of RANS, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.

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