The expectations are high for Joe Biden’s incoming administration after winning the U.S. presidential election. Considering the wreck of problems left behind from the Trump administration, these expectations will be even higher regarding the Israel-Palestine conflict. Though a lame-duck Trump administration still has the potential to create more problems in the conflict, these will be predictably limited and a new president will inevitably bring change to this matter. Yet, this question is valid: What kind of a relationship will the Biden presidency maintain with Israel and what can be expected for the Palestinians?
In light of several facts concerning Biden’s political profile and personal history, expectations of a radical or even substantial change from the Trump administration could come to nothing. Even though Biden served as the Vice President of the Obama administration, which Israel considered toxic, he was the “good cop” during those years, and he is anticipated to work more cooperatively with the Netanyahu government, if it remains. In other words, Biden is not a “better” choice but rather a “lesser evil” for the Palestinians.
Indeed, he has a long-standing relationship with the Israelis. In 1973, Biden, as a newly elected senator of Delaware, met with then-Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir in her first official overseas visit, which he sees as “one of the most consequential meetings” he has ever had in his life. Moreover, he has been a close friend of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu which extends back to Bibi’s years in the United States four decades ago. Just like his partner in the White House, Kamala Harris, he also has family ties within the American Jewish community as both his (former) daughter-in-law and current son-in-law are Jewish, though this does not necessarily bring us to expect something like Trump and Kushner.
Considering Biden’s foreign policy team, some level of the same staunch support to Israel as during the Trump administration will be maintained. Among them, Daniel Shapiro, the U.S. ambassador to Israel between 2011 and 2017, might be a leading figure for the Biden administration’s Israel agenda. Besides Shapiro, Tony Blinken, Biden’s senior advisor, stated that the new administration will push back against the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement as well as efforts in the United Nations aiming to denounce Israel for its violations of international law.
Biden will not reverse what his predecessor has achieved with regards to Arab-Israeli normalization. He can even take the initiative and include Qatar into this normalization process. Qatar has been left out of the process thus far because of its standing on the other side of the camp, especially due to the Saudi-led blockade against it by the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt during the Trump’s administration. Qatar’s financial capacity and influence over the Palestinian groups can lead Biden to pursue this process.
On the Palestinian issue, he will continue his good cop position from his vice presidency years and follow a middle path between Trump’s unfettered support and Obama’s wary approach. In this regard, he previously said that the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem will remain as it is, though the decision of relocating the embassy shouldn’t have happened in that context. Moreover, despite his opposition to settlements, he abstains from using the term “occupation” for what’s happening in the West Bank and staunchly rejects proposals of cutting military aid to Israel because of the settlements.
Biden will try to re-invite the Palestinians into negotiations with Israel and act against isolating them, unlike Trump. This includes the rhetoric of “supporting a two-state solution”, though without paying attention to what has been on the ground and only granting value to Palestinians on a symbolic basis. However, unlike his relationship with Trump, Netanyahu cannot find space for acting recklessly and impertinently this time.
The potential issue of dispute between the United States and Israel could be the revitalisation of nuclear negotiations with Iran. Steps for bringing Iran back to the negotiations can push Israel and its Arab partners to follow harsh rhetoric as in the last years of Obama administration. Nevertheless, Biden would not act as dismissively as Obama did in taking Israel’s interests into account and will strive for protecting the qualitative military edge of Israel, which is crucial especially for the Israeli military elite.