Five ways Trump-Biden voter chaos leaves Israel, PA, Iran fate in balance

Five ways Trump-Biden vote uncertainty leaves Israel, PA, Iran fate in the balance

President Donald Trump talks to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from the Truman Balcony at the White House during the signing ceremony of the Abraham Accords, Sept. 15, 2020 (photo credit: SAUL LOEB/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES/JTA)
President Donald Trump talks to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from the Truman Balcony at the White House during the signing ceremony of the Abraham Accords, Sept. 15, 2020
US President Donald Trump’s threat to head to the Supreme Court over alleged election fraud as he claimed victory late Tuesday creates chaos in the Middle East because of the presidential race that left both candidates certain they had won a full day after the polls closed.
It’s an unusual level of uncertainty for an electoral system that mostly provides a seamless transfer of power, but the divide between Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden on foreign policy is so sharp that the sudden absence of clear leadership, because of a protracted legal battle in the US, freezes certain initiatives and leaves others hanging in the balance.  
On Monday, Trump spoke with the full authority and weight of the US government behind him. Forty-eight hours later a question mark hovered over any action he has taken and could take, until his victory is set in stone either by a clear victorious vote count or a court verdict. Should the numbers affirm Biden, then Trump would be in countdown mode to the end of his term, having lost critical days in a leadership battle.
These five issues will feel the impact of the electoral chaos and its aftermath.
1. Iran, Iran, Iran
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani might have shrugged off the importance of the US election to his country, but its conflict with the US is one of the arenas where voters in Wisconsin and Michigan have cast a long shadow.
Confusion over the US election will give Rouhani a brief reprieve, as the lack of Trump administration authority weakens US efforts to galvanize regional and international forces against his regime.
The US was already isolated in its battle to restore international sanctions against Iran, including a push to restore the arms embargo against it that expired on October 18. It will now be almost impossible to lead such an initiative unless it is one with broad international and bipartisan consensus, something that has already been lacking. Iran would have no incentive now to halt its nuclear and ballistic missile program until it is assured that Trump has fully secured four more years.
This is particularly likely given that it is already clear that a Biden win would decimate the Trump administration’s policy on Iran and likely restore policy to that of the Obama administration, which 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, but the curtains have already begun to come down on its Iran strategy, unless Trump has actually won.
A Trump win would allow for a continued joint US-Israeli front against Iranian regional aggression, its ballistic missile program and its development of nuclear weapons. It would allow time for sanctions against Iran to be effective and for the US to continue its attempts to restore international sanctions against Iran.
There would be time to solidify and enhance the new regional alliance of Israel and the Gulf states that is forming against Iran. More significantly, the specter of four more years of Trump, with no reprieve, might sway Iran to consider ceding to the US request to negotiate a new deal that would address the problems in the 2015 document.
2. Israeli-Arab normalization deals and Jerusalem Embassy moves
Over the last week both the Dominican Republic and Malawi spoke of relocating their embassies to Jerusalem. During the past months, the US brokered burgeoning normalization deals with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Sudan. All those efforts continue. But the promised additional US-brokered agreements would now be unlikely to move forward until clarity is achieved in the US elections. If Biden wins, it’s likely there would be a lull in future deals, until he is sworn into office in January, and then a further lull as his administration settles into high gear. Israeli-Arab normalization deals are one of the few areas where Biden is in agreement with Trump. But while he has no plans to move the US Embassy out of Jerusalem, he is not expected to campaign as Trump had for additional countries to relocate their embassies.
3. Settlers likely to see this period as one of opportunity
One of the few groups to see opportunity in this period of uncertainty is the Israeli Right and the settler community. In the absence of clear authority from the Trump administration and in advance of clarifying who will be president, they are likely to want to seize the moment to advance settlement activity. In particular, they will look to legalize some 100 West Bank outposts, in lieu of the promised West Bank annexation that was suspended. They will want to get it done out of certainty that if Biden wins the White House, such a step might be impossible. They would also be concerned that a second Trump administration might not be as supportive as the first when it came to settlement expansion.
4. Can the PA survive another four years of Trump?
The Palestinian Authority could either be doomed or saved by the victor in this US election. If the victor is Biden, then the sooner the PA knows that, the more likely that news would be like a shot of hope that would energize it until his administration is up and running.  
The PA, particularly its aging president, Mahmoud Abbas, has the most to lose from another four years of Trump. Abbas is set to celebrate his 85th birthday on November 15 and has already suffered health issues. His final legacy as a Palestinian leader, therefore, is most likely to be defined one way or another by this US presidency.
The PA has arrived in this moment like survivors from a shipwreck, clinging to bobbing wood in the ocean, about to go under, in hopes of a Biden rescue. During his term in office, Trump isolated the Palestinians politically from some of their key Arab allies and deprived them of half-a-billion dollars annually in financial support to pressure them to accept his two-state vision to resolve the Israeli-Palestinians conflict, which gave them only 70% of the West Bank and just a small toehold on the outskirts of Jerusalem. It’s a politically suicidal deal for a leadership that already feels that its demands of all of the West Bank and half of Jerusalem are a compromise position.
The PA severed its ties with the US after the Trump administration closed both the PLO’s Washington office and the US east Jerusalem consulate. Both offices liaised between Washington and the Palestinians.  
The crisis escalated when the PA cut security coordination with Israel and refused to accept tax revenues Israel has collected on its behalf to protest possible Israeli annexation moves and its normalization deals with Arab states. The absence of funds, a drop in tourism and foreign donations, together with the COVID-19 pandemic, have created a fiscal crisis that threatens the PA with collapse.
A Biden presidency is expected to restore US funding to the PA, revive diplomatic ties and give it a new lease on political life, just when it was on the verge of irrelevancy. As a gesture to Biden, the PA could be expected to restore security ties with Israel.
Abbas has held out hope Biden would help the Palestinians arrive at a two-state resolution to the conflict based on the pre-1967 lines, thereby allowing him to achieve his lifelong goal. Appeals to the United Nations and the international community, particularly Europe, have gained him little but lip service.
Abbas has often protested Israeli and Trump administration moves by threatening to dissolve the PA. But unless he is offered an external lifeline, a Trump presidency offers the PA a stark choice between collapse or sitting down to negotiate a suicidal deal.
5. Netanyahu’s political fate
The Israeli political system has been in a holding pattern, waiting to see whether Trump or Biden wins the White House, so that it can determine whether to head to elections. The US electoral chaos extends that state of limbo.
The delay is a statement about the extent to which it’s believed that a Trump win would give a political boost to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The close ties between the two men have been one of the core foundations of Netanyahu’s prime ministerial power and make it difficult for his political rivals to argue that they can serve the Israeli people better when it comes to this arena. A Trump win could literally sway Israeli opponents of Netanyahu to refrain from taking action that could lead to what  would be Israel’s fourth electoral contest in less than three years.
In reality, Netanyahu won three elections during the tenure of former US president Barack Obama. Two of those triumphs were achieved despite Netanyahu’s fraught relationship with Obama. More to the point, Netanyahu built his campaigns on his ability to stand strong against Obama, particularly on Iran.
Netanyahu has a very strong relationship with Biden. The two men have known each other for close to four decades, and as such, Netanyahu does not have to give a Biden administration the same grace period that another Israeli leader would have to grant it.
Netanyahu, in some ways, is therefore more free to stand in opposition to Biden than would his Israeli rivals.  
Still, those rivals hold that a Biden victory would make it easier for them to campaign against Netanyahu, particularly those who are more centrist and whose philosophical stances are more aligned with Biden. So a Trump victory could prevent new elections, while a Biden victory could ensure a new round of Israeli electoral chaos.