Joe Biden’s election victory over Donald Trump was greeted with a sigh of relief in many parts of the world and is believed that it will refocus US policy towards the Middle East, while possibly reversing Trump’s damage done in the region.
During his term of office, President Trump deprived the Palestinian Authority (PA) of financial aid amounting to about half-a-billion USD annually, exercising pressure on it to accept his two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which gave only 70 per cent of the West Bank to a Palestinian entity and a negligible part on the outskirts of Jerusalem. Furthermore, he successfully isolated the Palestinians from some of their rich Arab allies, who in the past offered millions of dollars to the PA.
Currently, at a time of Covid-19 pandemic, the PA is in a desperate situation, facing a severe fiscal crisis, as it is deprived of US and Arab aid and at the same time stares at a sharp drop in tourist income. Furthermore, Trump had closed PLO’s Washington Office and the US Consulate General in East Jerusalem, while the PA cut security coordination with Israel. The PA sees the election of Joe Biden as a way out of the severe fiscal and political crisis and will curb the expansion of Jewish settlements on Palestinian lands.
US Vice President-elect Kamala Harris has said that the Biden administration would “take immediate steps to restore economic and humanitarian assistance” to the Palestinians, in addition to reopening the US consulate in East Jerusalem and the Palestinian mission in Washington.
Muhammed Shehada, a journalist based in Palestine, recently wrote that the “Palestine Authority leaders are hopeful- almost excessively- that Biden will reverse Trump’s catastrophic imprint on their rights. They hope that a Biden White House will take annexation completely off the table, restore funding to PA and the UN Relief Agency for Palestinian Refugees and re-establish diplomatic relations.”
Palestinian scholar and activist Hanan Ashrawi called on the incoming Biden Administration “not to return to the mistakes of the past and added that traditional US condemnations of settlement expansion would not be enough. There must be accountability and consequences if Israel continues its settlement policies.”
President Trump wanted aid to be given only to “friends” and adopted a policy of total support for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s positions possibly because he wished to please the Evangelists in the US, who are a key part of his voter base. He allowed Netanyahu to annex more Palestinian and Arab Land, while he exercised pressure on Arab states to normalise their relations with Israel. In this respect, he scored successes, as the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain have established diplomatic relations with Israel, and Sudan agreed to normalise relations after the US removed the country from the list of state sponsors of terrorism.
Donald Trump portrayed himself as the most pro-Israel US president in history, while in fact, he was great for Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and not so great for Israel, as he did nothing to resolve the Israel-Palestine conflict.
There are fears that Netanyahu will try to exploit the final weeks of Trump’s stay in the White House to increase sharply the construction of Israeli settlements on Palestinian lands. The Haaretz newspaper reported that Jerusalem is expediting approval of construction in the eastern part of the city in anticipation of the incoming Joe Biden administration. Apparently, they fear that Biden may freeze construction over the border that separates eastern Jerusalem and the West Bank from Israel proper.
Hugh Lovatt, an expert on the Middle East at the European Council on Foreign Relations, says that it is unlikely that there will be “a full return to the status quo ante in terms of reversing Trump’s decision to recognise Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem and the Golan Heights. Biden may also be limited by a US Congress that wields considerable power on this file.”
Israeli journalist Noa Landau says: “It will be very hard to paint Biden as a “hater of Israel”…Precisely because Biden is a classic middle-of-the-road politician who was elected to return to the United States the statesmanship and calm it has lost, his positions on Israel have also not strayed far from this comfort zone. Except for the fact the Israeli Palestinian issue will really not star at the top of their to-do list, there is no reason whatsoever that they will put a stick into the wheels of the peace agreements with the Gulf states, for example- agreements that Biden has even praised.”
Aaron David Miller, a senior fellow at Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, in an article published in the Washington Post wrote: “For Israelis and Americans, the incoming Biden administration will help preserve and strengthen the US-Israel relationship. The United States leading in the world by working in partnership, rather than dictating, and a renewed good faith effort to defuse regional tensions is overdue. Middle East stability, the national aspirations of Palestinians and security for Israel were too important to be left in the hands of Trump, who prioritised partisan political interests at the expense of American global credibility, reputation and national security.”
So Biden’s election victory is expected to be good development both for Palestinians and Israelis as it may revive hopes for a peace settlement of the conflict.