Bombs, sanctions and Israel: Reactions to US elections from the Middle East

Bombs, sanctions and Israel: Reactions to US elections from the Middle East
The Middle East is keeping a watchful eye on the outcome of the volatile elections taking place in the US.
6 min read
04 November, 2020
The presidential race has yet to produce a clear winner [Getty]

With Election Day finally over and the United States waiting to see who their next president is, many in the Middle East are also keeping a watchful eye on developments.

From interference in conflict, to shaping geopolitical patterns through relations with different regimes, to pressuring countries into normalise relations with Israel - the US wields huge influence in the Middle East. It is for these reasons, and more, that Arabs are awaiting the results of a race that is out of their control.

“There is unprecedented interest in the street towards the US elections, and everyone is awaiting the results,” TNA’s sister site Al-Araby al-Jadeed’s Iran correspondent Saber Golanbari told The New Arab.

“Although the government officially affirms that it does not care who wins, it understands that the outcome for foreign policy towards Iran in Washington would be decisive based on whether the US has a Trump or a Biden presidency.” 

Under Donald Trump's presidency, Iran-US relations deteriorated significantly, marked by Washington's withdrawal from a landmark 2015 nuclear accord between Iran and world powers.

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden has pledged to rejoin the accord, which European states have sought to save since Trump withdrew from it in 2018.

'Trump removing Palestine from the map'

Similarly, Palestine has been heavily affected by US foreign policy under Trump’s presidency, with unwavering support for Israel and hostility towards Palestinians.

In 2018, Trump moved the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, which is not recognised as Israel’s capital by the UN. He has also cut off virtually all US financial support to the Palestinian Authority (PA) and to UNRWA, the UN agency which provides aid and services to Palestinian refugees.

“The Palestinian leader and leadership unanimously agree that that US President Donald Trump is the worst American president for Palestine. He made fatal political decisions against the Palestinian cause that transformed the status quo”, said Palestine correspondent Naela Khalil. 

“While the Palestinians do not find a big difference between Trump and Biden, because any American president will be a friend of Israel, the Palestinian leadership is counting on Biden’s victory to restore the political process that will not result in any solution for Palestinians,” she added.

Read also: Israeli settlers pray for Trump victory at occupied Hebron mosque

Khalil stressed that Trump has at the expense of basic human rights of Palestinians, unequivocally supported Israel since becoming US President.

“Since his election as President of the White House, Trump has taken 48 decisions against the Palestinians, most of which are a turning point in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and no incoming White House president will be able to change them, such as declaring occupied Jerusalem the capital of the state of Israel, and moving the US embassy to it on December 6, 2017,” she explained.

Read also: US election 2020: What's at stake for Palestine?

“His announcement of the so-called Deal of the Century, which is based on annexing more than 30% of the occupied West Bank lands to Israel, and leaving the settlement blocs in the heart of the West Bank, means that no Palestinian state can be born in the future.”

Despite Palestinians having long been aware of Arab regimes' covert relations with Israel, Trump's emboldening them to forge official ties has been a severe disadvantage to Palestine. 

“As well as engineering the Arab normalisation train with Israel by forming an by encouraging the UAE and Bahrain to normalise, then blackmailing Sudan into normalisation, it will be more likely that other Arab regimes will follow as Trump broke the taboo of forming relations with Israel” Khalil said.

Policy having a direct impact on domestic affairs

For Iraq and Syria, neither Trump, nor a Biden presidency makes a difference, but support for the candidates is based on their own camps, analysts say.

“For Syrians, the US election has been a tough choice. Many Syrian opposition figures have expressed hopes that Trump will win and this is mainly because of the current president's tough stance on Iran, and because of the Caesar Act sanctions,” said TNA staff writer who follows Syria, Amr Salahi. 

“The Iran sanctions in particular seem to have weakened that country's ability to help Assad in the conflict. By contrast, many Syrians associate Biden with Obama and Obama is almost universally despised by Syrian opponents of the regime. However, Trump hasn't intervened to stop Assad's attacks on Syrian civilians and at home he uses dog-whistle politics to stir up hatred against Syrians and other people of Muslim background and culture,” Salahi added.

Immigration policy has also shifted perceptions on Syria, according to Salahi. 

“We saw this recently when he tweeted that he had "protected" Americans from Syrian refugees who he said were compromised by "radical Islamic terrorism". Biden, who is seen as soft on Iran, has also reached out to Syrian-American opponents of the regime, saying that he won't allow Assad access to reconstruction funds without major reform in Syria. He has also promised to reverse Trump's ban on Syrians entering the US - something which has affected many Syrian families.”

Similarly, Iraqi political opinion is also influenced by domestic Iraqi politics.

“Supporters of the Popular Mobilisation Forces/Hashd al-Shaabi and the political forces close to Iran through its various media outlets and platforms seem to support Biden, considering Trump's harsh stance on Iran and allies in the region,” Iraq correspondent Othman Muhammad said. 

“The anti-Iran camp in Iraq seem to be hailing for a Trump victory as an opportunity to continue pressure on Iran to loosen its grip on Iraq and trim the claws of armed groups.”

He added that Trump has been criticised for wider Arab affairs.

“Between the two camps comes an extra layer of Iraqis who want to see Trump lose due to his harsh position on Arabs, Muslims and Palestine. There remains a fear of a new wave of forced normalisation of some Arab regimes with the Israeli occupation if he continues to be President.”

Unlike previous years, neutrality has been key for Morocco on an official level.

“The main observation that can be made about the American election contest is Morocco's official commitment to the government and parties, to silence, unlike what was the case in the 2016 elections, when the then Moroccan prime minister, Abdelilah Benkirane, came out to openly declare support for former candidate Hillary Clinton” said Morocco correspondent Adel Nejdi.

“However, it can be said at the public level and on social media that there is a remarkable tracking of the feverish race, while the majority tend to prefer the election of Biden, given the negative impact of Trump's foreign policies, especially with regard to Palestine and the attempt to wipe it off the map with his so-called Deal of the Century.”

“Trump’s harsh immigration policies made an impact on the wider public opinion in Morocco.”

However, the outcome of the elections will not impact Rabat, Nejdi said. 

“The winner of the elections will not greatly impact relations with Morocco, especially when it comes to the fight against terrorism and the security partnership that was strengthened last month, with the 10-year extension of a military cooperation agreement.”

“If it is difficult to say that Morocco prefers a particular party, throughout history Rabat’s relations with the presidents of the United States have known stages of ups and downs.”

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