10 ways a Biden win rattles Israel, Palestinians, Middle East – analysis

US policy in the Middle East will likely undergo dramatic changes if Donald Trump is out of the White House.

People celebrate after media announced that Democratic U.S. presidential nominee Joe Biden has won the 2020 U.S. presidential election along the 101 beach highway in Cardiff, California, US, November 7, 2020. (photo credit: MIKE BLAKE/REUTERS)
People celebrate after media announced that Democratic U.S. presidential nominee Joe Biden has won the 2020 U.S. presidential election along the 101 beach highway in Cardiff, California, US, November 7, 2020.
(photo credit: MIKE BLAKE/REUTERS)
US policy in the Middle East, especially the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Iran, is likely to undergo a dramatic sea-change, now that Democratic presidential contender Joe Biden looks likely to enter the White House on January 20.
Here are 10 changes that could occur as a result.
1. Trump’s "Deal of the Century" is shelved
A Biden win ends any possibility that Trump’s plan to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, known as “Peace to Prosperity” or by its nickname as the “Deal of the Century” will come to fruition.
The plan had offered a radical break from past initiatives, in that it allowed for Israel to eventually annex up to 30% of the West Bank and promised to recognize Israeli sovereignty over most of east Jerusalem. As part of the plan, Trump had also included the first ever published map of suggested borders for a two-state resolution to the conflict. The plan was unveiled only in January 2020, with an invitation to the Palestinians to negotiate that was rejected.
The Trump administration itself sidelined the initiative this summer in favor of prioritizing Israeli-Arab normalization deals, with the idea that solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would come at a later stage.
Now Trump won’t have time to complete the plan and Biden is not expected to adopt it.
2. West Bank annexation is off the table
A Biden win removes any possibly of unilateral West Bank annexation, even a minor one. Biden will not support it and the Trump administration is unlikely to move on it during the time it has left, because his administration promised to suspend it in exchange for normalization deals with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.
Biden will want any sovereignty moves to wait until a final status agreement is reached with the Palestinians. His map of a two-state solution is unlikely to include all the settlements, and as a result, the fear of future settlement evacuations and a possible settlement freeze now returns to the discourse. The settlers and the Israeli Right had warned that the first 10 months of this year represented an unprecedented window of opportunity to annex the settlements. That window has now closed.
3. Onus on Israel to resolve the conflict with the Palestinians
The former Obama administration had held Israel liable for continuation of the conflict, holding that its continued settlement activity was a stumbling block to peace.
The Trump administration flipped that calculation. It placed the onus for the conflict on the Palestinian Authority for failing to negotiate and for incitement. It held in particular that terrorism was a stumbling block to peace and took the PA to task for its continued support of terrorist activity through the payment to individuals jailed for terror activity and to family members of terrorists.
The Trump administration also divorced settlement activity from the peace process either with the Palestinians or with Arab states. The onus will now flip back to Israel to resolve the frozen peace process, with renewed emphasis on the connection between the peace process and settlement building, which will once again become a stumbling block to peace.
4. Settlements will once again be considered illegitimate
Biden will likely reverse the Trump administration’s dramatic upending of longstanding US policy, which held that Israeli activity over the pre-1967 lines in the West Bank and east Jerusalem was illegitimate.
The Trump administration had recognized Israel’s historic and religious rights to that territory. While it never recognized Israeli sovereignty there, it held that such settlement activity was not inconsistent with international law and allowed for the building and expansion of Jewish settlements. To underscore the deep Jewish roots in the territory, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman spoke of that area as Judea and Samaria.
Concepts that were eliminated as part of the blanketed US support for all the settlements, such as settlement blocs, isolated settlements and the pre-1967 lines, will all be resurrected.
5. Jerusalem embassy will remain
Biden is among the signatories to the US Embassy Act of 1995 that recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and mandated its embassy be relocated from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
The embassy was only moved in 2018, under the Trump administration. During the campaign, Biden said he had no intention of reversing that move. To date, only the US and Guatemala have embassies in Jerusalem.
The Trump administration has actively campaigned and enticed a small number of other countries to follow suit. His loss brings an end to that campaign. It is now unlikely that other countries, even ones who have pledged to do so, will move their embassies to Jerusalem.
6. Revives the Palestinian Authority
A Biden win breathes new life into the Palestinian Authority, which had been on the verge of financial collapse. It’s expected the Biden administration would restore ties with the PA that had been severed during the Trump administration.
This would include reopening the PLO mission in Washington and the US Consulate-General in Jerusalem that served the Palestinians. Biden is expected to restore much of the financial assistance to both the Palestinians and to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency which services Palestinian refugees, all of which had been cut by the Trump administration.
The absence of those funds had created a financial crisis that was compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the PA’s decision to protest Trump’s peace initiatives by refusing to accept the tax revenues which Israel has collected on its behalf. It had also cut security ties. News of Biden’s possible victory allows it to restore security ties with Israel and to receive the tax revenues.
7. Israeli-Palestinian negotiations would likely be resumed
A Biden administration would likely be able to revive the frozen Israeli-Palestinian talks by leveraging the shelving of the Trump administration’s peace plan and any possibility of West Bank annexation to entice the PA back to the table. It would be difficult for the PA to refuse Biden, after taking such a harsh step against Trump. PA President Mahmoud Abbas’s age would also be a factor, he is 85 and can’t afford to wait out the Biden administration, like he did the Obama and Trump administrations.
8. Israeli-Arab normalization remains
Biden supports the Israeli normalization deals with Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Sudan and is expected to work to advance them. But he is less likely than Trump to be able to advance new ones, since some of the impetus for the deals was the creation of a regional alliance against Iran. Still, the basic paradigm shift that divorced Israeli-Arab ties from the fate of Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians will remain in place.
9. The US still stands with Israel at the United Nations
Under a Biden administration the United States still stands with Israel at the United Nations. This show of solidarity has been a main feature of US policy for at least the last three administrations.
The Obama and Bush administrations stood with Israel at the UN due to the body’s bias against Israel, even though they philosophically agreed with many of Israel’s opponents. The Trump administration stood with Israel both on the grounds of bias and because it philosophically supported Israel on many of the issues.
Biden is more likely to go the way of the Obama and Bush administrations. Biden’s anticipated elimination of the Trump Administration’s paradigm understanding of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, will likely weaken the impact of his administration’s support for Israel at the UN.
10. Revival of 2015 Iran deal
A Biden win decimates the Trump administration’s policy on Iran and likely restores it to that of the Obama administration, which had brokered a 2015 deal to curb Tehran’s nuclear program.
Trump withdrew the US from that deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, between Iran and the six world powers. It has re-imposed US sanctions on Iran and fought – albeit unsuccessfully – to restore the international ones as well, including the arms embargo. Now Biden will work to rejoin and revive the deal, which still has the support of the other five world powers.