Biden’s Middle East challenges

President-elect Joe Biden
President-elect Joe Biden (Photo by Michael Stokes /Wikimedia Commons)

President-elect Joe Biden recognizes the shared values between the U.S. and Israel, understands the benefits of the close relationship and supports Israel’s strategic and military edge in the region. While we believe that his administration will continue this country’s special relationship with Israel, we know that his approach will be different from that of President Donald Trump.

Trump faithfully fulfilled a number of items on the wish lists of the pro-Israel community. Although many of those actions were largely symbolic, each has had an important and likely lasting impact. For example, Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and his move of the U.S. Embassy there put an end to the fiction that Jerusalem is not Israel’s capital. So too with his recognition of the reality of the Golan Heights. And, similarly, his honoring of longstanding congressional recognition that Americans born in Jerusalem can have “Israel” printed on their passports.

None of those moves is likely to be reversed in a Biden administration. Instead, we expect Biden to focus on efforts to make improvements in the lives of the peoples of the region — both Israeli and Arab.

Central to that vision is Iran, which threatens Israel and its new allies in the Gulf. Trump agreed with Israel and other critics that the Iran nuclear agreement was flawed. But his abrupt withdrawal from the agreement was not productive diplomatically and did nothing to address long-term security concerns. Instead, the move split the United States from its European partners and encouraged Iran to move closer to its nuclear ambitions.

Biden wants to reenter the deal, and renegotiate it to close the loopholes. But what will it take for Iran to re-engage? Some argue that meaningful reductions in Trump-orchestrated sanctions will bring concessions from Iran, but that may be wishful thinking. A more nuanced diplomatic process is more likely necessary.

Similarly, nuanced diplomacy will be necessary for re-engagement with the Palestinians. They rejected Trump’s “Deal of the Century,” which offered them a tradeoff of jobs for national pride. A more structured process will be needed to engage effectively with them.

Meanwhile, Trump helped orchestrate meaningful change with the Abraham Accords. We don’t underestimate the significant impact of those agreements on a wide array of Israeli and Middle East issues. We expect the Biden administration to embrace the progress made and to encourage further alliances and agreements in the region. Those gains can be used to help navigate toward comprehensive negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.
Biden’s victory has already had an impact on the Palestinians. They have resumed security cooperation with Israel. We encourage the Biden administration to embrace that move and to consider a reward-driven path for the renewal of U.S. aid for the benefit of the Palestinian people.

Biden’s challenge is to avoid the rancor of the Obama years and the bluster of the Trump years as he helps move toward a solution to the confounding political puzzle in the Middle East.

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