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photo by Rhonda Spivak

 
EDITOR'S REPORT: WHAT WILL BE THE EFFECT OF A BIDEN PRESIDENCY ON ISRAEL'S NORMALIZATION AGREEMENTS WITH ARAB STATES AND HER RELATIONSHIP WITH THE PALESTINIANS ?

by Rhonda Spivak , November 19, 2020

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The recent normalization agreements that the UAE, Bahrain and Sudan have signed with Israel came against the backdrop of a weakened Iran.  Mordechai Kedar, an Israeli scholar of Arabic culture and a lecturer at Bar-Ilan University, has outlined that these agreements were possible "because Iran today is far weaker than it was four years ago, mostly due to the economic sanctions imposed on Tehran by the United States" under the Trump administration. These sanctions have caused the value of the Iranian currency to  nose dive. 
 
As Kedar has explained since Iran's ability to influence other countries' policies is much less since Iran is in a weakened state, agreements have been signed between Israel, the UAE, Bahrain and Sudan. Moreover, Kedar notes that in Syria and Iraq, "countries where Iran has significantly controlled politics, there are voices calling for the recognition of Israel and normalization of relations with it."
 
Kedar emphasizes these developments stem from Iran's weakness as a direct result of  U.S. sanctions. However, it is expected that Joe Biden will change the U.S.'s approach towards Iran. As Kedar notes, "He will likely reenter the United States in the 2015 nuclear deal, which will remove the economic sanctions imposed on Iran." Kedar is concerned that if Iran regains its economic power, "it will once again undermine stability in any Arab country where it has influence."
 
Kedar opines that "Once the ayatollahs' regime regains its economic capacity, it will pressure the Emirates and Bahrain to freeze their new relationship with Israel. One attack on an oil tanker carrying oil from the UAE or Bahrain will suffice to illustrate to these dissenters Iran's dissatisfaction with their behavior, and they will understand the message well. "
 
I hope that Kedar proves to be incorrect with this assessment, and that Iran ultimately will not be able to pressure the UAE and Bahrain into freezing their blossoming relationship with Israel.  I do not think that Biden (who Netanyahu has referred to as a "great friend of Israel") would want to see the UAE and Bahrain's peace deals with Israel being put in jeopardy in any way. In fact, Biden said in a statement at the time of the UAE-Israel normalization agreement that "The United Arab Emirates and Israel have pointed a path toward a more peaceful, stable Middle East.  A Biden-Harris administration will seek to build on this progress.[emphasis added]." Moreover, Israel's Defense Minister, Benny Gantz has just indicated that he believes that Biden will continue the 'Abraham Accord' trend. (https://www.israelnationalnews.com/News/News.aspx/290973).Gantz has said that "I am certain that under his [Biden's]leadership, the American government will continue to lead the process toward further peace agreements..."
 
Prior to the U.S. election Israel's Intelligence Minister Eli Cohen told Channel 20 TV that there are five other Arab states, with whom Israel would intensify negotiations towards reaching normalization agreements after the U.S. presidential elections. He named the five countries as: Saudi Arabia, Oman, Qatar, Algeria and Morocco( https://en.yabiladi.com/articles/details/100941/israel-eyes-normalization-deal-with.html). I am hopeful that Israel will be able to work with a Biden administration to make these normalization agreements happen. 
 
I anticipate that Biden will return the Palestinian issue more to the forefront after Trump pushed it to the sidelines. But I hope that Biden outright rejects the Palestinian Authority's position that the Palestinians under the P.L.O must get a state before there can be any further normalization agreements with Arab states. According to the Times of Israel, Biden has promised to "urge Arab states to move beyond quiet talks and take bolder steps toward normalization with Israel."(https://www.timesofisrael.com/biden-a-longtime-friend-israel-critic-of-settlements-may-be-at-odds-over-iran/)
 
 
An article in Israel Hayom has referred to "diplomatic officials from the Gulf Arab states and senior Arab diplomats",  who said that "a Trump loss could bring about the cessation of US-mediated talks for the normalization of ties between Israel and additional Arab states such as Saudi Arabia, Oman, and Qatar."
 
But in contrast to the above views, a senior Saudi official who spoke to Israel Hayom said that a Biden presidency would result in cementing the regional alliance forged between Israel and moderate Arab states. 
 
As Haviv Rettig Gur has written in the Times of Israel, "If Biden follows in Obama's footsteps and bolsters Iran and its Shiite axis, an Israeli-Saudi deal will only grow more likely.
 
And if he cleaves more to the Trump administration's sense of the region and leans towards the Israeli-Sunni axis, that, too, will bring Israeli-Saudi normalization closer." 
 
 
Regarding Iran, Tzachi Hanegbi a Likud Minister close to Netanyahu has gone so far as to warn recently that if Biden goes back to the Iran Deal signed by the Obama administration, "...there will, in the end, be a violent confrontation between Israel and Iran."(https://www.jpost.com/us-elections/israeli-minister-warns-of-war-if-biden-returns-to-iran-deal-648097). It's clear from Hanegbi's statement that Israel could find herself at odds with a Biden administration over Iran.

 

Turning to the Palestinian issue, I anticipate Biden will cancel Trump's "The Deal of the Century" which would have given the Palestinians a state in 70% of the West Bank with just a small toehold on the outskirts of Jerusalem. I expect Biden will be a proponent of a two-state solution, along the 1967 lines, with some border concessions and a corridor connecting the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Biden appears to have indicated that he could accept settlement blocs or some modified form of them. He is among the senators who voted for the Congressional resolution in 2004 supporting the Bush-Sharon letter guaranteeing Israel would not have to withdraw from the seeltement blocs. It remains to be seen if Biden will pressure Israel to cease all settlement building, like Obama did.

 
An unnamed senior official in Abbas’s office was quoted by Israel Hayom as saying Ramallah has sent Biden messages that the PA would be willing to resume US-brokered peace negotiations with Israel, but only from the point where they were halted in 2016 under Barack Obama. ( https://www.timesofisrael.com/abbas-lauds-biden-win-said-planning-to-demand-return-of-us-embassy-to-tel-aviv/). If this is correct, then we'll have to see how Netanyahu responds to this position of the PA, and whether peace talks are renewed on this basis.
 
 
Ron Ben-Yishai writing in Ynet News has suggested that "A Biden White House and a Netanyahu-led government would essentially be a re-run of the Obama administration." https://www.ynetnews.com/article/HkF4cLp00P.
 
Kamila Harris has said that the US will oppose any unilateral steps that undermine the goal of a two state solution and "We will also oppose annexation and settlement expansion."https://www.jpost.com/us-elections/kamala-harris-we-will-restore-aid-to-palestinians-renew-us-plo-ties-647811
 
A Biden presidency is expected to restore US funding to the PA, which Trump cut, since the Palestinians refused to negotiate with Israel as per "The Deal of the Century." Biden is also expected to restore funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) which services Palestinian refugees, which had been cut by the Trump administration. Under Biden, the PA will revive diplomatic ties with the U.S. that have been frozen under the Trump Administration. Kamilla Harris also has indicated that the Biden administration will reopen the US consulate in east Jerusalem, which Trump had closed in addition to working to reopen the PLO mission in Washington. 
 
According to the Times of Israel, "Biden has vowed to push the PA toward ending its policy of paying stipends to individuals imprisoned for acts of terrorism." (https://www.timesofisrael.com/biden-a-longtime-friend-israel-critic-of-settlements-may-be-at-odds-over-iran/).
 
 
 
 

 

 

 

 
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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.


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