The US Presidential Election and the Middle East
The Media Line takes a look at what the region can expect from one of the most closely watched leadership races in years
As the November 3 vote nears, citizens and leaders in the Middle East are keeping a close eye on the US presidential race and debating how the result will directly impact their lives.
Many of the top issues likely to require immediate attention from the next president are linked to the region. But how could a Biden presidency or a second Trump term affect the Middle East? And where do Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Joe Biden stand on the issues that matter to the region’s people?
A recent YouGov survey of Arabs found 40% of respondents saying Biden would be better for the region, while 12% said the same of Trump. That said, 49% stated that neither candidate would be good for the Arab world.
The same survey found that an overwhelming majority (89%) opposed Trump’s 2017 decision to move the US Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.
One of the most contentious issues that has faced US administrations is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Forging a comprehensive Middle East peace has been an elusive goal for US presidents for decades. Several tried to mediate. A few came close; the rest failed. And the conflict remains unresolved.
Trump, like his predecessors, tried to play the role of honest mediator, but in the eyes of many, including the Palestinians, he failed. Not so for Israel.
The Palestinians cut ties with the US administration after several controversial moves by Trump, including the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December 2017 and the subsequent relocation of the embassy.
The Palestinians consider east Jerusalem the capital of their future state and they insist that the US is no longer an honest broker.
The US also shuttered the Palestine Liberation Organization mission offices in Washington in response to the Palestinian Authority’s refusal to enter into US-led talks with Israel.
And in an attempt to force the Palestinians to the negotiations table, Trump cut off hundreds of millions of dollars of US aid.
When the White House finally unveiled its so-called “Peace to Prosperity” Middle East plan, the Palestinians swiftly rejected it as too biased toward Israel.
Meanwhile, there is no shortage of military conflicts or diplomatic crises in the Middle East, including in the bloody war zones in Syria, Yemen and Libya.
All the while, internal instability is brewing in countries considered allies of the US that are ruled by weak governments teetering on the verge of collapse, such as Lebanon, Iraq and Afghanistan.
Trump and Biden have contrasting approaches for dealing with Iran, the Israeli-Palestinian issue and the Gulf states.
Another issue a Biden administration would have to address is the intimate relationship that Trump and his son-in-law Jared Kushner have with the powerful Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Under Trump, three Arab governments have normalized relations with Israel, moves swiftly rejected by the Palestinians. This could lead to the creation of a new alliance in the region among Israel, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates.
Middle East analysts expect that such an alliance would target the expanding influence of Turkey and Iran, as well as the proxy groups they support, such as Lebanon’s Hizbullah, the Palestinians’ Hamas and the Houthi rebels in Yemen.
Finally, both the Republican incumbent and the Democratic challenger want to reduce the size of the US military forces in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Iran/The Gulf states
Iran remains the key issue in the Middle East, and Trump has made supporting Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates the crown of his Middle East policy.
Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud (Wikimedia Commons)
Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain are pleased with the president’s policy toward Iran. And officials in these countries are worried that a Biden administration might upend policies the current administration has put in place regarding the Islamic Republic.
Abdullah Baabood, an Omani and a visiting professor at Waseda University in Tokyo, told The Media Line that the members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE) are divided, and this is reflected in their position on the US presidential vote.
“I don’t think there is a consensus among Gulf leaders or a particular view on whom they wish to see as the next US president. The Gulf states are divided into two or three different camps. Obviously, one camp would like to see Trump win because they are close to him. And that is mainly Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain,” he says.
I don’t think there is a consensus among Gulf leaders or a particular view on whom they wish to see as the next US president
The Gulf crisis, aka the Qatar diplomatic crisis that began in June 2017, has contributed to these divergent views, Baabood says.
He thinks Oman and Kuwait, maybe not overwhelmingly, and perhaps also Qatar, would like to see Biden win.
“There is no united camp or united view as to whom they want to win. The Gulf States are very much divided and in near-conflict with each other,” he states.
The Gulf States are very much divided and in near-conflict with each other
More than three years since Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt began boycotting the small Gulf state of Qatar, the diplomatic crisis remains a major obstacle to US policy in the region.
The quartet imposed a blockade on Doha. They also suspended trade and closed diplomatic missions.
The group accused Doha of supporting terrorism through its backing for the Muslim Brotherhood political Islamist movement.
“The Trump Administration became much closer to the Saudis’ and the Emiratis’ views, especially vis-à-vis Iran, including the withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) and the ‘maximum pressure’ against Iran, and some other policies like the war in Yemen,” Baabood says.
Riyadh, Doha and Manama enthusiastically and publicly applauded Trump’s withdrawal of the US from the Obama-era JCPOA, also known as the Iran nuclear deal. They strongly believe that this step has boosted their national security and helped put a stop on Iran’s growing influence in the region.
Giorgio Cafiero, CEO and founder of Gulf State Analytics, a geopolitical risk consultancy based in Washington, also spoke to The Media Line.
“Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain have welcomed the Trump Administration’s anti-Iranian campaign of ‘maximum pressure,’” he says.
Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain have welcomed the Trump Administration’s anti-Iranian campaign of ‘maximum pressure’
“During [Barack] Obama’s eight-year presidency, these three Gulf Cooperation Council states became far less confident in the US’s willingness to confront Iran, at least to the degree desired by Riyadh, Abu Dhabi and Manama,” he notes.
“That said, Trump has also been an unpredictable president with a volatile foreign policy, which has left Arab capitals nervous about his leadership,” he continues.
“Furthermore, even if three GCC members have been supportive of Trump’s aggression against the Islamic Republic, all six monarchies belonging to this sub-regional institution fear the risks of ‘maximum pressure’ spiraling out of control − a nightmarish scenario that would inevitability fuel extremely dire economic and security crises in the Arabian Peninsula,” Cafiero says.
Trump has come down hard on Iran, imposing crippling sanctions as part of his “maximum pressure” policy.
Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (Iranian Supreme Leader Press Office – handout/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
Diplomatic talk with Iran is absent, and Trump has repeatedly said that if he is re-elected, a tougher agreement may be negotiated.
Dr. Hamed Mousavi, a political science professor at the University of Tehran, in Iran, told The Media Line that “the fundamentals of US foreign policy in the Middle East are largely the same, whether Republicans or Democrats are in power.”
The White House under Trump, he said, has been “hostile” toward Iran.
“As soon as Trump came into power, he started pressuring Iran diplomatically economically, and he eventually withdrew from the nuclear deal and then escalated to hostilities and tensions by assassinating [Quds Force commander Qasem] Soleimani.”
He added, “This has essentially put the two countries on a very conflictual path.”
Mousavi argues that the two countries are essentially at “war” with each other.
“During the past year or two, there have been, I would say limited, but at the same time, significant military confrontations between the two countries. This has all been the result of Donald Trump’s so-called maximum pressure campaign against Iran.”
The Iranian economy is reeling under US sanctions ordered by President Trump, and the people have been suffering as a result. This, says Mousavi, has left a bitter taste in their mouths.
“I would say most Iranians, including the people as well as politicians, … would be happy if Donald Trump is not elected anymore because of his open hostility toward Iran.”
Mousavi says under Trump, the US has invested heavily in its regional alliances.
“The US has a special relationship with Israel. The Trump Administration has very little regard for human rights and there they are pretty much indifferent to it. For example, he is friends with [Egyptian President Abdel Fattah] el-Sisi, who we all know came into power with a military coup d’état. This is also true for Saudi Arabia.”
Biden has indicated that he is open to a return to the 2015 agreement and would negotiate a longer-term accord, with tougher and more rigorous constraints.
In response to the US withdrawal from the JCPOA, Tehran said it was no longer subject to any agreements or restrictions on the nuclear material it can produce.
“Regarding Iran, there are notable differences between the policies advocated by Biden and Trump. Biden is a veteran of the negotiations which produced the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action,” Cafiero notes.
Regarding Iran, there are notable differences between the policies advocated by Biden and Trump. Biden is a veteran of the negotiations which produced the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action
“The odds are good that the former vice president would bring other JCPOA veterans into his administration, all of whom would probably work to save the nuclear accord. Unclear is how Iran would respond to a Biden administration calling for both the US’s and Iran’s full compliance with the JCPOA, yet there is every reason to expect Biden to at least attempt to salvage the agreement,” he says.
“The UAE, which has very much supported Trump, would fear certain aspects of a Biden presidency, primarily because of his association with Obama. Nonetheless, Abu Dhabi is capable of being adaptive and flexible on the international stage and could likely adjust very well to a Biden White House, particularly given the UAE’s deep bonds with US politicians on both sides of the aisle,” he adds.
The UAE, which has very much supported Trump, would fear certain aspects of a Biden presidency, primarily because of his association with Obama. Nonetheless, Abu Dhabi is capable of being adaptive and flexible on the international stage and could likely adjust very well to a Biden White House, particularly given the UAE’s deep bonds with US politicians on both sides of the aisle
The GCC state likely to have the most to lose from a Biden victory, Cafiero states, would be Saudi Arabia.
“With Biden calling for the oil-rich kingdom to become a ‘pariah’ while vowing to end Washington’s support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen, some experts believe that the former vice president, if elected, would take actions against Riyadh. Such actions would likely pertain to arms sales, the [Jamal] Khashoggi file, the Yemen war, and the abuse of rights activists locked up in the kingdom, among other issues that have harmed Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s reputation in Washington and other Western capitals,” he says.
Last January, the US military assassinated the commander of Iran’s elite Quds Force, Qasem Soleimani, in an attack ordered by Trump. Iran responded by firing missiles at US bases in Iraq.
Mousavi says that there’s little difference between the two candidates.
“Democrats, including Joe Biden, also see Iran as a threat.” He adds that President Trump has made it almost impossible to salvage the US relationship with Iran. “Donald Trump has put so many hurdles, including various sanctions enacted by Congress, as roadblocks. So, so it’s not like if Joe Biden is elected, he can fix all of this in, you know, a few weeks or even a few months.”
Hasan Awwad, an expert on Middle East politics, told The Media Line that the recent deals signed between Israel and the UAE and Bahrain may be the first step in reshaping the Middle East geopolitical map.
“If President Trump is re-elected, he will continue to cater to Riyadh and Abu Dhabi and continue to exert pressure on Iran. These new ties are meant to be part of this policy to confront Iran,” Awwad says.
Dr. Robert C. Mogielnicki, a resident scholar at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington, told The Media Line that a Biden administration would offer a more stable policy.
“Trump has demonstrated strong support for many of the region’s leaders, but his foreign policy is often erratic. Biden would likely approach foreign policy in a more coherent and consistent manner, but his unwavering support for the region’s leadership is not guaranteed,” Mogielnicki says.
Trump has demonstrated strong support for many of the region’s leaders, but his foreign policy is often erratic. Biden would likely approach foreign policy in a more coherent and consistent manner, but his unwavering support for the region’s leadership is not guaranteed
Iran and Turkey are challenging regional heavyweight Saudi Arabia for leadership of the Islamic world.
Biden’s policy on Iran would differ from the Trump Administration’s, Mogielnicki says.
“While the Trump Administration’s approach to Iran has consisted mostly of sticks and few carrots,” he notes, “economic diplomacy from a future Biden administration is likely to be a more balanced meal of carrots and sticks.”
However, he says that if the Democratic nominee wins, he and Gulf leaders will find a way to work together.
“Gulf Arab governments − especially in Riyadh − have their work cut out for them in terms of improving relations with Democrats in Washington. But vice president Biden also understands the full extent of US partnerships with Gulf Arab states. There may be some changes on the margins to US-Gulf Arab relations, but a Biden administration is unlikely to radically redefine these relations,” Mogielnicki says.
Trump has taken a radical shift from past US administrations’ policy on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
He recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in December 2017, and he relocated the US Embassy to the city in May 2018, leading the Palestinians to sever ties with his administration.
Trump abandoned the two-state solution in favor of pushing for diplomatic ties between Israel and Arab countries.
Under the auspices of the US, three Arab countries normalized ties with Israel, moves that enraged the Palestinians, who insist that establishing diplomatic ties between Israel and the Arab world should come at the conclusion of the conflict.
Still, Palestinian officials are holding back on publicly sharing their opinions of whom they wish to see occupy the White House come January.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (Issam Rimawi/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
Palestinian citizens are, however, cheering for a Biden victory, with many calling a potential second Trump term a “nightmare.”
Khaled Elgindy, a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute in Washington and author of the new book Blind Spot: America and the Palestinians, from Balfour to Trump, told The Media Line: “The difference between a Biden and a Trump administration is a Biden administration will at least rhetorically affirm a commitment to the two-state solution, although he won’t make it a huge priority.”
The difference between a Biden and a Trump administration is a Biden administration will at least rhetorically affirm a commitment to the two-state solution, although he won’t make it a huge priority
While the Democrat would focus on the coronavirus pandemic and economic crisis in the US, he would not ignore foreign policy.
“Biden has said he will work to reopen the PLO mission in Washington [and] reopen a US consulate to the Palestinians in east Jerusalem. He will reaffirm very clear support for the two-state solution, which is something the Trump Administration is trying to do away with,” Elgindy says.
Last summer, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, in response to Israeli plans to annex parts of the West Bank, refused to accept millions of dollars in tax money Israel collects on behalf of the PA. This created a major economic and financial crisis for Palestinians, with the PA not being able to consistently pay salaries to its public employees.
Hassan Awwad, a US-based expert on the Middle East, told The Media Line that the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah is eager to see Biden in the White House.
“There’s no doubt in Palestinian officials’ minds that a Biden win will mitigate the economic hardship and provide President Abbas the ladder Mr. Abbas desperately needs to climb down from the tree,” he says.
There’s no doubt in Palestinian officials’ minds that a Biden win will mitigate the economic hardship and provide President Abbas the ladder Mr. Abbas desperately needs to climb down from the tree
Despite the belief that a Biden administration would resume financial aid to the Palestinians, expectations are low that the Democrat would reverse any of the major decisions Trump has taken.
Elgindy says that if Trump wins on November 3, the Palestinians will face a bleak future.
“A second Trump term would likely put the final nail in the coffin of a two-state solution,” he believes, adding that it would end the Palestinian dream of an independent state.
“It would cement the current reality of a Greater Israel. We could see formal annexation [in the West Bank]; it will become more likely in a second Trump term, and we will see a push for more normalization of Arab countries with Israel. In practical terms, it would mean a genuine two-state solution would be off the table – permanently,” Elgindy says.
PA Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh also said, in a virtual address to the European Parliament earlier in the month, that if Trump wins the election, it will be disastrous for the Palestinians.
“If we are going to live another four years with President Trump, God help us, God help you and God help the whole world,” he said.
“If things are going to change in the United States, I think this will reflect directly on the Palestinian-Israeli relationship,” Shtayyeh said, referring to a Biden victory. “And it will reflect itself also on the bilateral Palestinian-American relationship.”
While Palestinians acknowledge that Biden most likely will not reverse all of Trump’s decisions, they believe he will ease the tensions between Ramallah and Washington, allowing for communication channels to reopen.
“Biden has pledged to reverse the most destructive of these policies in a bid to salvage what remains of a two-state solution and restore US-Palestinian relations,” says Elgindy, who adds that while Biden and his running mate, California Sen. Kamala Harris, are staunch Israel supporters, they will take a starkly different approach to that of Trump.
“I expect a Biden administration to take a radically different approach to Israel and Palestine. A Biden victory come November will no doubt revive hopes for a two-state solution and give Palestinian leaders a much-needed reprieve. However, a Biden administration is unlikely to break with past approaches to the conflict or fundamentally alter dynamics on the ground,” he says.
A Biden victory come November will no doubt revive hopes for a two-state solution and give Palestinian leaders a much-needed reprieve. However, a Biden administration is unlikely to break with past approaches to the conflict or fundamentally alter dynamics on the ground
Mustafa Barghouti, secretary-general of the Palestinian National Initiative, a political party, told The Media Line that re-electing Trump would be a “disaster for the United States and the whole world,” including the Palestinians.
Trump has taken an unfair position on the Palestinian issue, he says.
“His full support for Netanyahu’s plan, Trump’s plan, was a total disaster, because it meant that he is planning to completely liquidate the Palestinian issue and support this with unacceptable normalization [of relations between Israel] and some countries, against the will of their people,” Barghouti states.
Biden offers a contrast to the Trump approach with the Palestinians, he notes.
“Biden promised that he will bring back the financial aid support to the Palestinian Authority and that he will refinance UNRWA [the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees], which are good things in general, but I don’t think he will be able to provide any context for a real solution of the problem,” he says.
But for Barghouti and most Palestinians, the options on the ballot represent two sides of the same coin.
“We don’t expect much, or big changes, even if Biden is elected,” he says.
We don’t expect much, or big changes, even if Biden is elected
“Regardless, I think the election of Mr. Biden will not really change much because the unfortunate thing is the American administrations and Congress and the Senate are totally biased in favor of Israel in an irrational way. And there has not been, even during Obama’s time, any intent to stop the legal activities of settlements,” Barghouti observes.
Palestinians add, however, that a Biden win may offer the last hope for a resolution to the conflict based on the two-state solution.
“The most crucial, decisive point, if Biden is elected, is whether the new administration will be able to force Israel to stop settlement expansion that would eventually kill the possibility of a two-state solution,” Barghouti says.
No US president has done more for Israel than Trump, and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu stands to be the biggest loser if Biden wins.
Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu (Screengrab/Channel 12)
“On a personal level, it would be a blow to Netanyahu. He has invested a lot in the Trump Administration,” says Danny Ayalon, a former Israeli ambassador to Washington.
Prof. Eli Podeh of the Department of Islamic and Middle East Studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, told The Media Line that the two leaders see eye to eye on almost every issue.
“Netanyahu and Trump have a close relationship, and the two agree on many issues, not only in dealing with the Palestinians and with Iran,” he notes.
Netanyahu and Trump have a close relationship, and the two agree on many issues, not only in dealing with the Palestinians and with Iran
Podeh acknowledges that the zeal and drive that Trump has for Israel are hard to duplicate, but adds that nonetheless, Biden can work with Netanyahu.
“I don’t see why not,” he states.
“If Biden wins, he still has a full commitment to Israel security, but at the same time there are some major differences between the two. Regarding the conflict with the Palestinians, we will see a different approach to the Palestinian issue. I don’t know if he [Biden] will reverse some of the decisions, as it will be difficult for him to do so,” he says.
Podeh says a Biden administration will have its work cut out for it, as the US is facing several domestic issues that demand immediate attention from the next president, relegating the foreign agenda to the back burner.
“It is true that Trump gave us the ‘deal of the century,’ but it was not really an opening; this is something that the Palestinian could not work with. Therefore it was not a good starting point,” he explains.
It is true that Trump gave us the ‘deal of the century,’ but it was not really an opening; this is something that the Palestinian could not work with. Therefore it was not a good starting point
“The question is to what extent Biden would want to go into this complicated issue. My guess is he won’t, not at the beginning. He has other problems he needs to face, beginning with corona, the economic issues. That is why I don’t think he will pay too much attention [to the Israeli-Palestinian issue]. Therefore, he probably will want to build on the things his predecessor left him. If he will continue with the trend of signing agreements, the question is, at what price?” Podeh says.
Ayalon told The Media Line that a Biden victory will usher in a different US policy.
“First of all, there’s no doubt there’s going to be a totally major change in tone, in style, and also in policy,” he says.
As far as Israel is concerned, Ayalon believes a President Biden would be a mixed bag.
“On the one hand, it is expected he would encourage more normalization deals between Arab governments and Israel, but on the other important issues, Biden may not see eye to eye or be on the same page as Netanyahu,” he notes.
One example of this is the relationship between Tehran and Washington. Ayalon says Biden is in favor of patching up the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.
“He already said he will resume the JCPOA,” he states.
As for restarting negotiation between Israel and the Palestinians, Ayalon, despite the differences between Biden and Trump, believes Biden would not push Israel toward talks.
“On settlements, certainly he will change the tone and will not support the ‘deal of the century.’ On the other hand, I don’t think there will be pressure to negotiate with the Palestinians,” he says.
The relationship between Obama and Netanyahu was cold at best, but Ayalon says this should not reflect on a Biden-Netanyahu relationship.
“Biden is not Obama, so there is still a lot of maneuvering room for Netanyahu and Biden to get to know each other. The first thing if Biden wins is for Netanyahu to invite himself to the White House for a meeting, and try to agree on Iran,” Ayalon says.
Biden is not Obama, so there is still a lot of maneuvering room for Netanyahu and Biden to get to know each other. The first thing if Biden wins is for Netanyahu to invite himself to the White House for a meeting, and try to agree on Iran
Historically, Jordan has been a strategic ally of the US, with the countries cooperating in many areas, ranging from security and military issues to regional politics.
The US is the biggest provider of aid to Jordan. But under the Trump White House, relations between Amman and Washington have been cold.
When Trump rolled out his vision for peace in the Middle East last January, he did it with little to no consultation with Jordan’s King Abdullah. Making things worse, there is the US position on Israeli plans to annex the West Bank portion of the Jordan Valley, which Amman strongly rejects, calling it a threat to its national security.
Jordanian King Abdullah II (Wikimedia Commons)
Under the Trump Administration, Jordan’s role has been marginalized. Trump has bypassed the strategic relationship that the US had with Jordan for decades, in favor of Gulf states.
Osama al-Sharif, a veteran Jordanian journalist and political commentator, told The Media Line that when Trump took office, his relationship with Abdullah was “friendly.”
“Trump praised the king on several occasions, but I think the relationship soured after the steps that Washington under Trump took vis-à-vis the Palestinian-Israeli conflict,” he says, “especially the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, the steps that were taken later on with regard to [suspending aid] to UNRWA, and most recently, normalization between a number of Arab countries and Israel, thus bypassing the two-state solution and the Arab Peace Initiative of 2002.”
Trump praised the king on several occasions, but I think the relationship soured after the steps that Washington under Trump took vis-à-vis the Palestinian-Israeli conflict
As a result, Sharif says, “Jordan and King Abdullah found themselves outside the mainstream with regard to current US policy in the Middle East.”
Sharif recognizes that a shift has occurred in US policy toward Jordan.
“I think Jordan has always seen itself as a gateway between Gulf states and Israel, and as a gateway for future normalization of ties with Gulf countries. Now Jordan has been bypassed and it finds itself in an awkward position where it has little or no say at all over the fast-moving developments with regard to Israel opening up to some Arab countries,” he says.
It has been at least two years since Trump and the king met personally or spoke by phone, in another sign of the cool relations between Amman and Washington.
“As I understand it, there is that kind of a frigid relationship between the White House and Jordan, which might even extend to the US State Department,” Sharif states.
As I understand it, there is that kind of a frigid relationship between the White House and Jordan, which might even extend to the US State Department
Nevertheless, he insists that Jordan remains a strong partner of the US, adding that this is why people in the kingdom are keeping a wary eye on the presidential race.
“Jordan is watching carefully and with a certain anxiety the outcome of the US election. They most likely favor a Joe Biden administration coming in,” he says.
“As you know, Joe Biden is a veteran diplomat with a longtime relationship [to Jordan] as a senator, a VP and a member of the Democratic Party. Speaker [of the House of Representatives Nancy] Pelosi paid a very important visit to Jordan [at the head of a bipartisan congressional delegation in October 2019], so there are certainly good ties between Jordan and the Democratic Party, and a Democratic administration might reset the relationship and put us on a path to its recovery,” Sharif says.
In the event the incumbent retains the presidency, “I think Jordan would have to cope with a second Trump administration,” he notes.
“Amman may be forced to take a number of steps to show that it is willing to cooperate with the White House. That might be easier said than done. That might conflict with some of the most important current Jordanian policies on the Palestinian issue, and with Jordan’s role in Jerusalem as the custodian of Islamic and Christian holy sites,” Sharif says. “It will be interesting to see how King Abdullah maneuvers through this possible development.”
Amman may be forced to take a number of steps to show that it is willing to cooperate with the White House. That might be easier said than done
Jordan sees the Arab Peace Initiative as a cornerstone of a just peace.
“In the beginning, I think the first two years, the relationship between Jordan and the US, between King Abdullah and President Trump, was described as very good. King Abdullah was among the first Arab leaders to meet with President Trump at the White House,” Sharif observes.
He adds that US policy under Trump has weakened the Jordanian role in east Jerusalem. Last year, Abdullah vowed to keep protecting Islamic and Christian holy sites in the city, calling it a “red line” for his country.
The Hashemite Kingdom is the custodian of the Jerusalem Islamic Waqf, or religious endowments, including the city’s most revered and contested site, Haram Al Sharif, known in English as the Noble Sanctuary and to Jews and Christians as the Temple Mount. The king derives legitimacy from being the caretaker of these holy places.
There is serious apprehension in Amman that the recent rapprochement between Israel and Gulf states may eventually alter Jordan’s role in the city.
Awwad says the US administration must be careful with its Jordan policy.
“Amman is a major player in the region and has proven to be a reliable ally. The issue of custodianship must not be tampered with, and the status quo must not be compromised because it would create major public pushback against the US and Israel,” he says.
Amman is a major player in the region and has proven to be a reliable ally. The issue of custodianship must not be tampered with, and the status quo must not be compromised because it would create major public pushback against the US and Israel
Sharif feels a Biden presidency would likely “reset the course” of Washington’s policy to resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict by resuming “aid to the Palestinian Authority and reopening a US consulate to deal with the Palestinians in east Jerusalem.”
But he thinks the US Embassy in Jerusalem will remain, and there will be “minimum engagement on a two-state solution” to the conflict. The Biden campaign has hinted that the US could return to JCPOA “if Iran recommits” to its terms.
Jordan under Abdullah has been a staunch supporter of the classic two-state solution under the umbrella of the Saudi-backed Arab Peace Initiative, with east Jerusalem as the capital of an independent Palestinian state on the pre-1967 lines.
“This unfortunately is not the position of the [current] US administration. As a result, there has been a cooling of personal ties,” Sharif says.
Many analysts recognize that there is no going back on many of the decisions Trump has taken, but they say a Biden administration would abandon the current “dismissive” and “unwise” US policy in the region.
“President Trump doesn’t consult with US allies; he speaks down to them, and that has hurt the American standing not only in the region but around the world,” says Awwad.
President Trump doesn’t consult with US allies; he speaks down to them, and that has hurt the American standing not only in the region, but around the world
“I think the Biden administration is probably not going to put much pressure [on Israel] or shift from the current course, but at least it will not put pressure on Amman to change its position regarding the two-state solution,” he says. “A Biden administration would strengthen security ties with Jordan and work with Amman on a number of regional issues.”
If Trump wins a second term, Sharif notes that the king is politically savvy and will adjust.
“King Abdullah is a pragmatist,” he notes. “He has always shown that he adapts to changing geopolitical shifts in the region, and he has done so successfully for the last 20-plus years despite Jordan’s small size and having almost no natural resources.”
King Abdullah is a pragmatist. He has always shown that he adapts to changing geopolitical shifts in the region, and he has done so successfully for the last 20-plus years despite Jordan’s small size and having almost no natural resources
Despite the frigid relationships between Abdullah and Netanyahu, and between Abdullah and Trump, there is still high-level security coordination between the three countries.
Trump has bragged that world leaders have come to him for help with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, saying that Turkey’s leader will listen only to him.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (Adem Altan/AFP via Getty Images)
Matthew Bryzer, an Istanbul-based nonresident senior fellow with the Atlantic Council’s Eurasia Center and Global Energy Center and a former US ambassador to Azerbaijan, told The Media Line the common view among the Anatolian nation’s officialdom and public is that another term of Trump would be “more beneficial” for Turkey.
“I think the conventional wisdom in Turkey is that most people here would like to see President Trump be re-elected,” he says.
I think the conventional wisdom in Turkey is that most people here would like to see President Trump be re-elected
The two presidents have a close personal relationship. Trump has publicly complimented Erdoğan and his combative ruling style, calling him “a friend” and “a hell of a leader.”
“President Trump has built a special relationship with President Erdoğan. The two leaders seem to genuinely like each other. President Trump’s son-in-law [and senior adviser Jared Kushner] and President Erdoğan’s son-in-law [and Finance Minister Berat Albayrak] also get along very well, and have a history of trouble-shooting difficult issues together. It’s interesting that they are two strong leaders and their sons-in-law are very often able to manage the disputes,” says Bryzer.
President Trump has built a special relationship with President Erdoğan. The two leaders seem to genuinely like each other
Yusuf Erim, chief political analyst and editor-at-large for the Turkish public broadcaster TRT, told The Media Line that Ankara has adapted to the Trump Administration’s way of doing things and would prefer to continue dealing with the incumbent.
“After a short learning curve, Ankara settled into the new Trumpian normal and has made its foreign policy calculations in line with these conditions. A new administration in the White House would mean a recalibration in some aspects of its foreign policy. I believe the Erdoğan administration would prefer to continue working with who and what they have become accustomed to,” Erim says.
A new administration in the White House would mean a recalibration in some aspects of its foreign policy. I believe the Erdoğan administration would prefer to continue working with who and what they have become accustomed to
Washington and Ankara have had their differences in the past over Syria, the US support of Kurdish forces in Syria that Turkey considers terrorist groups, and the most recent tensions over Turkey’s purchase of Russian S-400 mobile surface-to-air missile systems.
Under US law, Bryzer says, Trump is required to counter that purchase with sanctions.
“He is required to choose five of 12 [possible] sanctions against Turkey. He’s been obligated to do this since last year, and he simply refused,” he notes.
Turkey’s fear of Biden stems from comments he made during the Second Gulf War, when he hinted he would be okay with breaking up Iraq into three countries.
“Back in 2004, then-senator Biden made some statements suggesting he might be in favor of breaking up Iraq into three separate cantons: a Shi’ite one, a Sunni one and a Kurdish one. That plays into Turkey’s huge fears of also dividing up Turkey,” Bryzer says.
Bryzer, an expert on US-Turkey relations with four years in the George W. Bush White House and another four at the State Department, says a more recent comment by the former vice president “about President Erdoğan, saying that he should be removed from office by democratic means, by election,” irritated Ankara.
Erim says this statement infuriated Erdoğan.
“Biden has said that he wants to support elements inside Turkey against Erdoğan. This is definitely a statement that didn’t sit well with Ankara,” he states.
Erim explains that with all the negative remarks coming from Biden toward Erdoğan, the two are pragmatic enough to work things out.
“Despite the negative aura attached to Biden regarding the US-Turkey relationship, I strongly believe the realities of the White House and American security interests will curb and soften his stance if he is elected.”
The conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh, a mountainous region situated within Azerbaijan and controlled by Armenia-backed ethnic separatists, but considered an occupied Azeri territory by the United Nations, adds to the anti-Biden sentiment.
Turkey supports Azerbaijan in the conflict. Biden accuses Turkey of intervening militarily and making the violence worse.
Aside from the warm relationship Trump has with Erdoğan, US-Turkey tensions are high and Ankara has virtually no supporters outside of the White House and a few pockets of strategic thinkers in Washington.
Eventually, Bryzer says, Ankara would find a way to deal with a Biden presidency, but it would not be smooth.
“I think we are going to see, for some period of time, even more serious tensions between the US and Turkey than exist today,” he says.
I think we are going to see, for some period of time, even more serious tensions between the US and Turkey than exist today