It is clear that the election of Joe Biden, the Democratic Party candidate for president of the US, would bring changes to the US domestic scene, but not necessarily to US policies toward the Palestinians. It is easy to notice the differences between the Democratic and Republican parties’ domestic programs, however, more difficult to find a sizeable gap between the two parties regarding policies on the Middle East, specifically toward the Palestinians.
In the US domestic arena, ending internal division has been at the top of the Biden election campaign. This division has reached its peak during Trump’s presidential term, which witnessed several racist occurrences. Biden has used the slogan “Restore the soul of America” for his campaign – a slogan that was borrowed from the Charlottesville accident. In this incident, a person who demonstrated against white nationalism and supremacist racism was killed. Following this, a series of racist crimes were committed by white police or fanatics whom Trump failed to condemn.
The support for white nationalists by the Republican Party, or the support for the coloured communities by the Democratic Party, is not new in the US. It has been a point of difference between the two parties for many years. But the highly-polarised social division and the police brutality against African Americans during the Trump period placed this issue at the top of the internal US debate and the current election campaign.
Biden has chosen Senator Kamala Harris as his running mate. This is the first time that a woman of colour has reached this position. The Democratic Party has been keen to diversify its spokespersons and representatives during the election campaign, to reflect the diversity of the American population. On the other hand, the Republican Party and the Trump campaign have generally relied on the white population.
In his campaign, Biden accused Trump of failing to protect the American people from racism, social division and the coronavirus. Biden promised the American people to tackle these problems. With regards to coronavirus in particular, Biden promised to adopt a national mandate that would require people to wear masks to protect the country from the virus. Wearing a mask is considered a divisive issue between Republicans and Democrats and their respective supporters. Most Republicans believe that wearing a mask impinges on their freedom and individual rights – values that are glorified by Americans. On the other hand, most Democrats have supported wearing a mask. At the domestic level, too, it is easy to see the significant gap between the Democrats and Republicans on issues such as gun control, healthcare and immigration, among other issues.
In the US Middle East policy, the main principles that define US national interests are almost the same for Democrats and Republicans. Biden has supported the diplomatic endeavours and a constructive dialogue with Iran. He announced his intention to restore the nuclear deal with Iran which was signed during Barack Obama’s term. Biden also stands against the US policy of regime change in the country. But he has criticised Iran’s development of ballistic missiles, Iranian intervention in the region and its suppression of internal opposition. Meanwhile, Biden announced that he would end US support for authoritarian regimes, even if they were US allies. He also stands against the war in Yemen, the internal conflicts, and the proxy wars in the Middle East. But Biden talks about his intention to support Saudi political and economic modernisation, to empower the US allies in Iraq and to rely on its allies in the Middle East – coupled with his assurances to decrease US military presence in the region. Biden’s support for the Iranian nuclear agreement will be paralleled with his support for the Arab Gulf countries and the status quo in the Middle East.
During his campaign, Biden emphasised his commitment to Israel’s security, its right for self-defence and the US’ commitment to maintain the qualitative military superiority for Israel. Democrats and Republicans together share these principles and regard Israel as a US national security interest. In parallel, the two-state solution is traditionally supported by both Democracies and Republicans, alike, as well as a majority of American Jews.
However, Democrats have not opposed the siege of Gaza and have viewed it as a humanitarian case, without putting any blame on Israel. This attitude towards Gaza is not different from the general US policies in the region. Democrats tend to take superficial initiatives that do not change the existing order in the region and reflect the diplomacy of acquiescence of Israel actions.
With regards to Syria, Biden calls for a political solution to the crisis and highlights the need to address the humanitarian aspect, although he makes no mention of ending US sanctions against Syria. In Lebanon, Biden calls for helping the Lebanese to develop a better political and economic future, but with the necessary measures to fight corruption.
If Biden becomes the future president of the US with a Democratic majority in Congress and the Senate, would his administration be willing and able to force Israel to finalise a peace deal with the Palestinians? Although Biden declared his support for the two-state solution and his rejection of any unilateral move including annexation, Biden has never labelled Israel as an occupying power. Biden confirmed that he would reopen the US consulate in East Jerusalem and would allow the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) diplomatic mission in Washington to reopen if he becomes the president. But Biden did not announce his intention to move the US embassy back to Tel Aviv from Jerusalem, or to adjust the legal status of the PLO diplomatic mission in Washington. The US administration still classifies the PLO as a terrorist organisation. The US used to allow the organisation to function in Washington by an exceptional presidential decree that needs to be signed and renewed every six months.
If Israel does carry out its threat to annex more than 30 per cent of the Palestinian territories, Biden may not force it to reverse this annexation, but he may also not recognise it. Although Biden did not mention Arab-Israeli normalisation, he believes that this process strengthens the pro-US allies and efforts to confront the Iranian influence, and facilitates the withdrawal of US forces from the region.
It is evident that Biden is not going to bring any change to the US Middle East policy, in general, or to the Palestinians, in particular. He may retroactively return to the Obama era that supported the peace negotiations. But working on the peace negotiations during Biden’s term could not avoid the changes that took place in the Trump period, including the recent Arab-Israeli normalisation, which has added a new element to the general concept of the peace process. It is worth remembering that the peace process and negotiations did not succeed in the past years to make any breakthrough, and are unlikely to make any significant achievements in Biden’s term, if he becomes president.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.