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Biden should watch and learn

When it comes to the Palestinians and Iran, U.S. President-elect Joe Biden would be wise to follow in President Trump’s footsteps.

Then-U.S. Vice President Joe Biden with Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah, March 9, 2016. Photo by Flash90.
Then-U.S. Vice President Joe Biden with Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah, March 9, 2016. Photo by Flash90.
Eyal Zisser
Eyal Zisser is a lecturer in the Middle East History Department at Tel Aviv University.

On Election Night, voters went to sleep with U.S. President Donald Trump and woke up with President-elect Joe Biden.

Countries in the Middle East braced for the possibility that the elections would sway in favor of the Democratic candidate, and some—perhaps driven by polls predicting Biden’s victory—did not wait to push normalizing ties with Israel.

The majority of Middle East countries, including Israel, made no secret of who they would prefer to see in the Oval Office. During his term in office, Trump restored the status of the United States as a power player in the region.

After the meek policies of the Obama administration, Trump wasted no time putting Iran and Russia in their place. He didn’t hesitate to eliminate Gen. Qassem Soleimani, head of the Quds Force, Iran’s infamous extraterritorial black-ops arm, nor did he dither in retaliating over Syrian President Bashar Assad’s use of chemical weapons on his own people.

His administration imposed stifling economic sanctions on Tehran and Damascus, and overall, when it came to the international arena, Trump was no pushover.

History will credit Trump for his steadfast support of America’s allies in the Arab world, his support for Israel, as well as the efforts he put into fostering and preserving regional stability and advancing Israel-Arab relations.

Still, all eyes are now on Biden. He may not be Trump, but he is also not Barack Obama. Biden is familiar with the forces driving the Middle East and is committed to Israel’s security, but he is known for taking all things Middle East with a sizable grain of salt.

His inherent wariness is rooted in several factors: First, most democratic regimes tend to analyze the Middle East through a Western prism—this was what drove the Obama administration to back the ouster of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in 2011, and what prompted Washington to give Abdel Fattah el-Sissi the cold shoulder when he unseated Muslim Brotherhood man Mohamed Morsi as Egypt’s leader in 2014.

Just as Trump has been careful to consider his evangelical electoral base during the election campaign, Democratic administrations are equally committed to their liberal and progressive electorate, which is often critical of Arab regimes, as well as of Israel.

These circles save their sympathies and for the ayatollahs’ regime in Iran and even for the Hamas regime in the Gaza Strip.

Trump did not tolerate that and he refused to allow the Palestinians to postpone—let alone veto—his plans for the Middle East.

The result was relative calm in the Palestinian area, as they had lost their motivation to provoke violence, while moderate Sunni states welcomed a breakthrough in Arab-Israeli relations.

It seems Biden still subscribes to the view that the Palestinian issue is the core of all that ails the region, thus reducing the chances of resolving the issue.

Then, of course, there is the Iranian issue. Biden seems committed to appeasement and to trying to convince Iran to relinquish its nuclear aspiration of its own volition. This ignores the threat Iran poses to the entire region, and, if anything, history has proven that appeasement only makes Iran more brazen and aggressive.

One can only hope that Biden is willing to listen to different views regarding his administration’s policies and that in some areas, he won’t hesitate to follow in Trump’s footsteps.

Eyal Zisser is a lecturer in the Middle East History Department at Tel Aviv University.

This article first appeared in Israel Hayom.

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