Middle East in Focus
With less than two months to go before the US presidential elections, regional observers and editorials have begun opining on the electoral chances of the respective presidential candidates, as well as, more importantly, on the consequences for the region of their election. Coming in the aftermath of the thawing of relations between Israel and some of its Arab allies and against the background of an adversarial US foreign policy vis-à-vis Iran, some Arab and Israeli commentators have expressed misgivings about what a Democratic administration would mean for the region, while others argue that a second term for US president Donald Trump could prove even more destabilizing for the region and beyond.
Many seem to share the view that Mr. Trump faces an uphill and almost impossible task to turn around the current electoral dynamics. The National’s Hussein Ibish makes the argument that short of a last minute miracle or blunder on the part of Mr. Biden, the Democratic nominee, it seems unlikely that Mr.Trump is headed for a second term, since “As it stands, the election is shaping up to be a referendum on Mr. Trump, which is bad news for a historically unpopular president. He could still change the narrative and alter the equation, but he's going to need some unanticipated dramatic development, a spectacular blunder by his opponent, or, the only one of these he could guarantee, a new way of presenting himself. But he seems to have only one political persona, and it doesn't appear well-suited to the moment. With little time left, he almost certainly needs to change the basic parameters of the election in order to win.”
However, in an op-ed contemplating the prospect of a second term for Mr. Trump, Jordan Times’ Osama Al Sharif believes that the events of the last few days may help the US president and should he win in November, one could see the creation of an ‘Israeli-Arab alliance’: “A flamboyant Trump has stacked a couple of important foreign policy victories ahead of the November elections. Last week Bahrain followed the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in announcing its intentions to normalize ties with Israel, and the White House will witness the signing of historic agreements that will boost Trump’s image as a peacemaker in a region beset by conflicts and turmoil. Other Arab countries could take similar steps before the elections, but if Trump wins a second term we could expect to see a new normal in the region where Israel would emerge as the backbone of a new regional alliance.... Trump’s victory will underline new geopolitical realities with the Israeli-Arab alliance taking center stage.”
Yedioth Ahronoth’s Nahum Barnea also views the normalization agreements as a boon for the Trump campaign, although he is more reluctant to give the US president credit for the rapprochement between Israel and two of its Arab neighbors: “For U.S. President Donald Trump, Tuesday's event was vital. It provides him with a wealth of material for his campaign ads and no less critical, it gives him an edge in the upcoming debate against his Democratic opponent Joe Biden. The normalization agreements between Israel and the Gulf states is his sole foreign policy achievement and the only issue that receives bipartisan approval. Evangelicals will hail the deal, but most voters cannot tell one Gulf nation from another. Ironically, it is American weakness that had facilitated the agreements. Sunni regimes in the Gulf have realized they can no longer depend on the U.S. for their security. Trump often makes threats but is careful not to carry them out and cannot be trusted. Israel will now step in to fill the vacuum left by the president and his policies.”
While some may see positives in Mr. Trump’s re-election, the same cannot be said for Mr. Abraham H. Foxman a former director of the Anti-Defamation League who in a strongly worded op-ed published by Times of Israel declared that “Trump is bad for America and bad for the Jews…. Nothing pains me more than to speak up with anguish in the face of this presidential election. But silence is not an option. American Jewry confronts a fateful choice. Another four years of Donald Trump will be nothing less than a body blow for our country and our community.... My reasoning is simple and stark: Trump’s presidency — in spirit and in deed — has given succor to bigots, supremacists, and those seeking to divide our society.... Trump has damaged that necessary consensus, and we cannot permit Jews and Israel to be weaponized for anyone’s narrow political interests.”
Writing in a similar vein, another long-time leader of the Jewish community in the US, Mr. Martin J. Raffel, who served for many years as senior vice president at the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA), characterized the US president’s recent achievements in the region as window-dressing, and crediting UAE’s and Bahrain’s fear of Iran as a greater motivator, rather than involvement: “Turning to the Middle East, Trump has engaged in several high profile but largely symbolic gestures that have had no constructive impact on Israeli security and the peace process. Unlike Biden, Trump has intentionally sought to erode traditional bipartisan support for Israel by irresponsibly accusing Democrats of being anti-Israel and even antisemitic.... While U.S. involvement helped, we can mostly thank a hegemonic Shiite Iran, not Trump, for Israel’s peace agreement with the United Arab Emirates (UAE).”
Not all are convinced, however, that Mr. Biden presents a qualitatively different policy alternative to the region. This is especially true for those who may have disagreed with Mr. Trump’s predecessor. As Egyptian columnist Magda Shaheen in notes in a recent Al Ahram op-ed, “it should be remembered, though the Egyptian people are quick to forget, that the Democratic Party administration of former US president Barack Obama favored the Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt on the pretext that it was a democratic government that had come to power through a popular vote... Should Biden win in the November elections, he will need to be more thoughtful about and more familiar with Egypt and the region and more appreciative of its people. The Democratic Party must understand that democracy is not a one-size-fits-all matter, but that every country has a different size when it comes to democracy. Globalization also does not mean the fusion of all the world’s countries into one mold but requires... the preservation of and respect for the specificities of different countries.
The Iranian approach is one of wait and see. But even though there is an expectation that Mr. Biden may be more willing to revert to Mr. Obama’s stance vis-à-vis Iran’s nuclear program, Tehran Times’ Mohammad Mazhari still assumes that while the form may change, the essence of US demands for a renegotiation of the nuclear deal will remain the same: “Countries' macro-strategies and foreign policies seldom undergo fundamental changes in a short period of time, and the U.S. is no exception.... It seems that the nuclear deal is practically over. Even if the Democrats win, it is very unlikely that they would return to the deal without setting new terms or conditions. They will sit at the negotiating table only if changes are made to the nuclear deal, changes that would include new conditions. Accordingly, it can be said that there are no drastic differences between Trump and Biden's approaches towards the nuclear deal. While some in Iran and abroad have bet on the results of American elections to resolve the problems facing the world, policies by the Republicans and Democrats suggest that the U.S. hardly changes its long-term strategies.”