Will Biden reopen channels of dialogue with the Palestinians?
Perhaps the biggest difference between Donald Trump’s foreign policy and Joe Biden’s can be summed up by the difference between the two slogans, Trump’s slogan “America first” and Biden’s “America is back.”
When Trump assumed the presidency in January 2017, he openly challenged US traditional foreign policy assumptions made since the end of World War II. At that time, the US adopted the Marshall Plan that provided aid to finance the reconstruction of Europe, and supervised the establishment of international organizations, chief among them the United Nations and its subsidiary organizations, and with this it assumed the leadership of the “free world.”
Since Trump took office, the US has withdrawn from several multilateral agreements, starting with the East Asia Free Trade Agreement (EAFTA) days after his inauguration, through UNESCO, the Paris Agreement on climate change, the Iran nuclear agreement, down to the World Health Organization (WHO) last July, and others.
In contrast, Biden, whose mandate starts on January 20, promised to return as soon as possible to the international system from which Trump withdrew and to restore America’s leading role in it. He also promised to mend the rift between the US and the European Union that resulted in imposing reciprocal economic sanctions, and to return to the traditional negotiation policy, even with China, since reciprocal sanctions negatively affect global trade and consequently the economies of the two conflicting sides.
One of the most important agreements that may potentially change in the Middle East is the Iran nuclear agreement from which America withdrew in 2018. During his election campaign, Biden announced that he would open the door to negotiations with Iran and widen the scope of the agreement to include new issues, the most important of which is changing Iran’s behavior toward neighboring countries, including the military activities of its allies in the region, in return for lifting the sanctions imposed on it.
The most important change in the region will undoubtedly be seen in US policy toward Israel and the question of Palestine.
Trump gave Israel more than it had hoped for and outdid all US presidents succeeding Harry Truman who had the upper hand in the establishment of Israel. Less than a year after Trump took power, i.e., on December 6, 2017, he declared that the United States recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and that he began making the necessary arrangements to transfer his country’s embassy to it. Despite the United Nations General Assembly resolution, immediately adopted by an overwhelming majority following this statement, which considered the declaration of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel to be null and void, the US embassy was moved to Jerusalem in May 2018.
In addition, Trump announced through a “presidential proclamation” in 2017 that America recognized the Golan Heights as Israeli territory. This was followed in 2018 by the closure of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s office in Washington, and the US stopping of all funding to the UNRWA that provides assistance to Palestinian refugees. In the subsequent year, a US declaration considered that Israeli settlements in the West Bank are legal, followed by a recent declaration by US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, that Israel is permitted to stick the label “Made in Israel” on goods manufactured in these settlements and exported to the United States.
Joe Biden and the Democratic Party oppose most of these measures. During the elections, the party pledged to oppose the expansion of Israeli settlements, and any steps made by Israel to annex land. In a speech he made during his campaign, on the annual conference of AIPAC, the pro-Israel lobbying group, Biden said, “Israel, I think, has to stop the threats of annexation and settlement activity… And to be frank, those moves are taking Israel further from its democratic values, undermining support for Israel in the United States especially among young people…”
There is no doubt that Biden will reopen channels of dialogue with the Palestinians and restore America’s relationship with UNRWA and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). He will also revive, at least in principle, the two-state solution, and the idea of comprehensive peace between the Arabs and Israel and move away from the fragmented solution that Trump has adopted recently. But there are steps taken by Trump that will be difficult for him to undo, such as recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, or moving the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. In this regard, he expressed his opposition to these measures, but he will not be able to reverse them.