With the UAE, and now Bahrain, recognizing Israel -- what would happen to this momentum if Biden were to become president?
In a recent article, Jonathan Schanzer -- of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies -- asks Would Joe Biden be willing or able to take advantage of the progress made with the Israel-UAE deal? At issue is whether Biden would be in a position to take advantage of the willingness of some Arab states to establish peaceful ties with Israel.
On the one hand, there is "the unorthodox approach of focusing on Arab states on the periphery of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict (rather than on the Palestinians)" -- going against the established precedent of relying on Arab states to bring the Palestinian Arabs to the negotiating table, the Trump administration is bypassing the Palestinians and bringing the Arab states themselves to normalize relations with Israel.
This is a new approach that Biden would be free to continue.
(Unless, of course, the Arab states are wary of the man who, as vice-president, vigorously supported Obama's strengthening of Iran, creating the instability and fear in the region that gave the impetus to Trump's policy in the first place.)
The stakes for the Palestinian Arab leadership are high:
At minimum, they will need to give up the dream of the demise of Israel as a state in which the Jewish people enjoy sovereignty and self-determination. More practically, this means the Palestinians would have to compromise on core issues like borders, Jerusalem, and Palestinians claiming refugee status.And if Trump in fact should win in November, some version of his Deal of the Century is very possible.
On the other hand, if Biden were to win, his options could be limited.
First, Schanzer points out, there are the progressives supporting the Iran deal, who consider Saudi Arabia, the UAE and their allies deserving of US sanctions. Reestablishing the Iran deal would undercut the ability of a Biden administration to act as a broker with those states.
Then there are the progressive Democrats supporting BDS against Israel, and would likewise make a policy de-emphasizing Palestinian Arab demands more difficult.
Interestingly, prior to Trump becoming president, the Obama administration also worked on engaging foreign countries and improving relations.
But they did not think in terms of alliances -- it focused on Iran, not only to slow down its nuclear program, but also for the influence Iran could have in the region.
As described in Foreign Policy back in 2015:
If an Iran deal helps forestall development of a nuclear weapon, that has to be seen as a benefit. If it has produced a partner in helping to contain Sunni extremism, that will also be seen as a net good. If it forms the foundation for a new U.S. regional policy that is based on enlightened management of the balance of power between key regional actors to maintain stability and contain threats, that is to the net good...If [Obama] can make that happen through careful, strategic management of U.S. relations in the region and follow through on all the steps required to make this work, it’ll be quite an accomplishment.Aside from betting on a global supporter of terrorism to get the job done, Obama was relying on the influence of a single, albeit influential state not shy about extending that influence, to hold things together. This was an extension of Obama's policy of engaging other countries one-on-one -- to "extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist,” even to governments “who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent.”
Like Myanmar, which Obama rewarded with restored diplomatic relations in 2012, following its political and economic changes and reforms, and cease-fire with rebels.
And Cuba, where Obama restored full diplomatic relations in 2014 and opened a US embassy for the first time in over 50 years, vowing to “cut loose the shackles of the past.”
The accomplishments are not insignificant, regardless of how one views Cuba and Iran. But it is a different approach from the policy of the Trump administration, which is focusing on alliances and regional peace as opposed to engaging individual countries and re-establishing relations.
And what about Biden?
As vice president, he has not been in a position to directly conduct foreign policy, though he has claimed to have influenced foreign leaders.
In 2018, Biden bragged about getting the Ukrainian government to fire a corrupt state prosecutor, by threatening to hold back loan guarantees:
I said, nah, I’m not going to—or, we’re not going to give you the billion dollars. They said, you have no authority. You’re not the president. The president said—I said, call him. (Laughter.) I said, I’m telling you, you’re not getting the billion dollars. I said, you’re not getting the billion. I’m going to be leaving here in, I think it was about six hours. I looked at them and said: I’m leaving in six hours. If the prosecutor is not fired, you’re not getting the money. Well, son of a b*****. (Laughter.) He got fired. And they put in place someone who was solid at the time.Holding back aid in order to strongarm foreign governments appears to be a favorite tactic of Joe Biden.
In a well-known incident in1982, when Prime Minister Menachem Begin appeared before the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Biden went beyond voicing opposition to the Israeli settlements and suggested that he would propose cutting financial aid to Israel. Unlike the Ukrainian leader, Begin was not impressed:
Don't threaten us with slashing aid. Do you think that because the US lends us money it is entitled to impose on us what we must do? We are grateful for the assistance we have received, but we are not to be threatened. I am a proud Jew. Three thousand years of culture are behind me, and you will not frighten me with threats. Take note: we do not want a single soldier of yours to die for us.
In this case, instead of bragging, Biden has "hotly denied" the incident, but it is confirmed by both the New York Times and Time Magazine.
In another incident, Biden killed 2 birds with one stone -- again bullying Ukraine, this time in order to undermine Israel by ensuring a unanimous vote for UN Resolution 2334, with the US being the lone abstention.
So much for supporting allies.
Schanzer suggests that a Biden administration could both continue the Trump policy of encouraging Arab states to recognize Israel while also leveraging those states to encourage the Palestinian Arab leadership to come back to the negotiating table.
But would Abbas see that as the last opportunity for peace on favorable terms, or as an opening to again scuttle talks and maintain the status quo?
In the meantime, let's see how many more Arab states will recognize Israel before the November elections.