What will a Biden presidency mean for America’s Middle East policy?

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

By MacKenZie Rumage

After four years of President Donald Trump’s unpredictability, cosying up to autocrats, and breaking from global agreements — like the Paris Climate Agreement — many world leaders welcomed Biden’s win, sensing he would be a more trustworthy partner. Leaders from German chancellor Angela Merkel to Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan quickly congratulated Biden and Vice-President elect Kamala Harris on their win, which stood in stark contrast to Trump’s refusal to accept the election results.

One area where Biden will be especially tested is his Middle Eastern foreign policy. Trump tended to establish foreign policy via Twitter and took positions that isolated the United States from their closest allies, such as considering leaving the NATO, which the United States has been part of for seventy years with other nations like Canada and the United Kingdom. Biden will likely return to standard official procedures that prioritises diplomacy and working with other nations to make decisions.

A changing relationship with Saudi Arabia

A major place where Biden will depart from Trump-era policy is the United States’ relationship with Saudi Arabia, whose Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman was one of Trump’s favourite foreign leaders. Bin Salman has been criticised worldwide for his disastrous human rights record, which includes fuelling the civil war in Yemen and likely ordering the assassination of American-based Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was a prominent critic of the Saudi government. Biden said that his administration would end their indirect support for the war in Yemen, while promising to punish Saudi leaders for Khashoggi’s death. This promise is also a firm rebuke to Trump’s antipathy to the media, who he has previously called ‘the enemy of the people.’

Biden’s support of Israel and Palestine

Biden supports Israel, but not as intensely as Trump did, who supported Israel’s claim to Jerusalem and moved the American embassy there from Tel Aviv. This decision prompted controversy because of Israel and Palestine’s competing claims to the city, and infuriated Palestinians. Trump has not been a friend to the Palestinians, cutting millions of dollars in humanitarian aid to them while maintaining a friendship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was indicted on bribery charges. Biden’s relationship with Netanyahu will likely resemble Obama’s, who repeatedly clashed with him over Israel’s settlements in the West Bank and allowed the UN Security Council to pass a resolution declaring those settlements illegal. Although Biden will probably not move the embassy from Jerusalem, he supports the two-state solution between Israel and Palestine and promised to restore humanitarian aid to the Palestinians.

Biden does not take office until January 20th, which gives President Trump two months to make Biden’s implementation of his foreign policies as difficult as possible by slowing the transition of power and quickly proceeding with several policy decisions, like the massive sale of arms to the United Arab Emirates. Trump’s deliberate interference with the transition of power not only makes Biden’s job harder but puts national security at risk as well. This is a dangerous move, especially as the United States’ main priority right now is to combat the pandemic — a battle they are not winning, as more than 250,000 people have died from COVID-19 in America.

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