The Middle East is leaving Palestinians behind. Will it be different with Biden?
In the time since the Palestinian Authority disengaged from the Trump administration in protest of the so-called Deal of the Century, the diplomatic landscape in which Palestinians live has shifted immensely. The United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and now Sudan have moved to normalize relations with Israel, facilitated by the United States. If rumors in the press are correct, other Arab states, including Saudi Arabia, may be moving to adopt similar positions.
Beyond labelling the Arab states as “betrayers of the Palestinian cause” and a few violent outbursts from militias in Gaza, Palestinian leaders have yet to show any action or policy response that meets the gravity of the changes entailed by the deals. This static position, according to some analysts, is due in part to the PA presupposing that Trump will not remain in the White House after next week’s U.S. election; and that his contender, former Vice President Joe Biden, will treat the Palestinians more favorably.
If Biden wins, as most polling data currently suggests, then Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s disengagement from the United States may prove to have been well-calculated. Yet holding out for a Biden victory may also be disappointing: not only has he been a longtime ally of Israel in Washington, but his presidency may do little to alter the geopolitical quandary the Palestinians find themselves in.
For years, Palestinian leaders have allowed themselves to become marginalized by regional developments, says Tareq Baconi, a senior analyst with the International Crisis Group. The normalization deals are an iteration of this pattern: although Arab leaders have lauded their diplomatic breakthrough as a way to improve the circumstances of Palestinians, the claim holds very little weight among Palestinians themselves. And while Israel’s plans to annex large parts of the West Bank appear to be on hold, in reality it still controls the occupied territory and has even announced further settlement expansion, with no word of opposition from its new Arab allies.
This “betrayal” should hardly come as a surprise to either Fatah or Hamas, the rival factions at the helm of Palestinians’ divided leadership. Historically, Arab leaders have used resistance to Israel as a brand to justify their dictatorships and channel discontent on the street, explains Baconi. Yet, he notes, there was always rhetorical support to the idea of an Arab debt to the Palestinians that grew out of the failures of the 1948 war. “This performance is over — the Arab solidarity is no longer there as far as these regimes are concerned,” Baconi says.
A substantive difference?
While the race for the White House will undoubtedly affect the course of these regional realignments, analysts are divided over how much a change in administration will actually benefit the Palestinians. Though their styles might not be the same, the difference in policy substance between Trump and Biden is not so great as far as Palestinians are concerned, argues Nadia Hijab, president of the Palestinian think tank Al-Shabaka. On the one hand, she says, Trump could fast track and openly endorse Israeli annexation if he wins another term; on the other, a future President Biden would likely make only a few critical statements, but do nothing to reverse it.