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US elections show deep divisions at home, reasoned diplomacy abroad

US President-elect calls on Trump supporters to give him chance, and to turn page on what he described as "grim era of demonisation"


The Democratic Party’s nominee, Joe Biden, has won the race for the US Presidency, toppling the position’s current incumbent, and highly divisive character, Donald Trump.

Biden’s win will leave the Democrats and their arch-rivals, the Republicans, facing an identity crisis unlike any in recent history. The new president’s win also means that Trump is the first US president to fail to win a second term since 1992.

Following the announcement of results, hundreds of supporters of the defeated president began gathering at Pennsylvania to protest, while others celebrated about 220 km east in Philadelphia, and in cities around the country. It was a split-screen simulcast of the US’ intense political divisions – as well as its sometimes angry racial and social divisions.

Biden addressed a deeply divided nation, on Saturday night, turning to the challenges ahead by grounding his victory speech in the spirit of compromise. He asked supporters of Trump to give him a chance, whilst also calling on all Americans to turn the page from what he described as a “grim era of demonisation”.

Biden repeated his promise that he would seek to unify the country rather than divide it. He also pledged to govern by the creed that he does not see a division of blue states and red states, but only the United States.

About the new US leader

Biden won the US presidential elections, becoming the oldest president to move into the White House in US history.

Such has been the deep divisiveness of his predecessor and the impassioned response to voting, that he has also broken Barack Obama’s 2008 record for the most votes cast for a presidential candidate.

Biden has arrived at the White House after a long political career that began in his twenties, and which has seen two previous failed attempts to win the Democratic nomination in the presidential elections of 1988 and 2008. He is a veteran in the world of foreign policy and has been one of the few constants of US political life for half a century.

His long career is a mixture of labour credentials, foreign policy experience, and a captivating life story. It is, however, coupled with the familial tragedy of the loss of his first wife and daughter in a car accident, and the recent death of his son from cancer. The president elect’s determination to press ahead has earned him popularity among many Americans working in low-level jobs.

He began his career as a lawyer in 1972, during which he was elected for the first time to the Senate, to become the youngest Senator in the history of the United States.

Re-elected to the House a total of six times, he chaired the Foreign Relations Committee to serve three decades in Congress. In 2009, he started the first of two terms, working as Vice President to the US’ last Democrat President, Barack Obama, who was also the first black president in US history.

Kamala Harris

Biden has also made history with the election of Kamala Harris as the first female of colour and first Asian American Vice President.

On Saturday morning, Harris posted a video of herself, apparently while on a run, stopping to talk with Biden on the phone.

“We did it, we did it, Joe,” she said. “You’re going to be the next president of the United States.”

Speaking Saturday night ahead of Biden from the riverfront at the Chase Center parking lot in Wilmington, a full five days after the last ballots were cast, Harris said, “While I may be the first woman in this office, I will not be the last”.

Biden and the Middle East

As votes have been counted over the past five days, experts have agreed that the new US administration will, at the beginning of its mandate, take care of the country’s fractured internal affairs.

These have been characterised by instability, in light of the repercussions of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), high unemployment numbers, and a state of internal polarisation.

Whereas Biden is expected to continue some Obama era policies in the region, there is almost blanket consensus among observers that Biden will not give the Middle East the attention it has received under previous US administrations.

This is due to the decline in the importance of oil and Biden’s position in favour of curbing climate change. The new president is keen to turn to clean energy sources, due to other challenges that he sees as a direct threat to the US’ interests.

Experts predict that Biden is highly unlikely to follow in the footsteps of the previous Democrat President, Barack Obama, to whom the former acted as Vice-President. The Middle east region has changed geopolitically from the time of Obama’s presidency, and the leaders of Arab and Gulf countries have become “more united and coherent”.  As for foreign policy, researchers do not expect that there will be “a major change” in US policy to the Middle East, despite the divergence of views between Democrats and Republicans.

US-Israeli relations

Some media outlets have reported experts as saying that Biden’s victory would be welcomed not only by Netanyahu’s left-wing opponents, but by the Israeli political and military establishments as well.

Biden has been known as an outspoken supporter of Israel, as he said in a 2015 speech that the United States must uphold its “sacred promise to protect the homeland of the Jewish people”.

Such a history of defending Israel is key to gaining the confidence of the tiny Middle Eastern state’s leaders, who are sensitive to the criticism directed at their country in international forums.

At the same time, experts have indicated that Biden could also restore the US’ traditional role as an interlocutor between Israel and the Palestinians. This could be particularly important, given that the Palestinian Authority cut ties with Trump, accusing him of blatant bias toward Israel.

Biden has also welcomed the recent normalisation agreements that have been signed by Israel on the one hand, and the UAE and Bahrain on the other. The President elect has said that he would push more countries in the region to take steps to implement similar deals, but that he opposes the unilateral policy that defined Trump’s approach towards Israel and the Palestinians.

Only last May, Biden said that he supports a solution to the Palestinian issue on the basis of establishing two states.

His campaign website stated that “Biden opposes any unilateral steps by either side that undermine the two-state solution”. It added that he also “opposes annexation and settlement expansion and will continue to oppose both as president”.

Biden has pledged to undo Trump’s withdrawal of economic and humanitarian support for the Palestinians, and to reopen the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) mission in Washington DC. At the same time, he has promised to reopen the US consulate in Jerusalem responsible for Palestinian affairs.

“In order to achieve Palestinian-Israeli peace, it is necessary for the US to return to dialogue with the Palestinian side and seek with Israel, and urge it not to take any steps that undermine the possibility of establishing two states,” Biden has said on the matter, “I will reopen the US Consulate in East Jerusalem and the PLO representative office in Washington, and resume security and economic assistance to the Palestinians that were stopped by the Trump administration.”

Biden is set to reconsider the Trump administration’s steps which have undermined the principle of a two-state solution, with the exception of the US embassy’s move to Jerusalem. According to the Jerusalem Post, Biden will acknowledge the demands of the Palestinian side with regard to the city, which is hugely important for all three major world religious. It should be noted that Biden has expressed his objection to Trump’s methods toward the Israeli-Palestinian issue, but not his results.

However, the obstacles that Biden will face in implementing his vision regarding the long-running Middle East conflict will not come from the Palestinian side.

The main obstacle will be the right-wing Israeli government, led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who enjoys close relations with Trump and his surrounding circle. This close relationship has enabled him to obtain all the demands he desires from the White House regarding the Palestinian issue, the Iranian file and other issues.

In the meantime, the Palestinians may see Biden’s presence in the White House as an opportunity to obtain some rights for the Palestinian people, before other Arab countries rush to sign peace and normalisation treaties with Israel.

Iran

Biden describes the Iran nuclear agreement of 2015 as one of former US president Barack Obama’s most important achievements on the international level. Biden has pledged that if Tehran resumes compliance with the pact he will return to the agreement.

This is in stark contrast to Trump’s more irascible attitude to Iran, which saw him quit the Iran nuclear agreement in 2018 before re-imposing sanctions on the Islamic republic.

With Iran’s economy crippled, its ties with Washington have been at boiling point ever since, and an international consensus over Iran’s nuclear work, which the West suspected was aimed at creating a nuclear bomb, has been in disarray.

Iran has yet to give any indication of its intentions that it would return to implement the agreement without gaining something in return. The country believes that it did not obtain the economic benefits it aspired to after the international sanctions were lifted.

Additionally, the Iranian presidential elections that are set to take place in the middle of next year may witness the return of the country’s hard-line movement to the presidency, particularly after it tightened its control on parliament in the last elections.

Iranian officials told Reuters that any talks would have to take place after the presidential elections in mid-2021, which anti-US security hawks are expected to win.

“If Biden wins, talks will start after Iran’s presidential election,” one Iranian government official was quoted as saying, “It will give hardliners some space to secure their election win.”

An Iranian security official also told Reuters that not much compromise should be expected from Iran’s side. While Iranian leaders have refrained from publicly endorsing either man, some officials suggest that hardliners loyal to Khamenei would prefer to deal with Trump, rather than Biden.

This is not only because Iran feels it can handle Trump’s transactional, business-minded approach to diplomacy. It is also because the hostility he evokes among Iranians could be used by hardliners in elections to reinforce their political position as the nation’s valiant defenders.

Iran will not return to the negotiating table without obtaining a price for sanctions and hardships inflicted on its people. The US position has also weakened since 2015, as relations between Washington, Russia and China are very poor, and highly unlikely to withstand by Washington in its endeavour to bind Iran to the terms of the agreement that it violated before.

Turkey

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is one of the biggest losers from the recent US elections, with Biden strongly supportive of the Kurds. The new US President has even gone so far as to pledge support for the Turkish opposition.

Biden, who described Erdogan as a “tyrant”, is expected to take a tougher stance towards Turkey than previous administrations, in order to expose Ankara to the fury of the US Congress. This could spell potentially catastrophic sanctions for Turkey.

Saudi Arabia

“There is concern that a Biden presidency would, at best, mean a reduced US focus on the Middle East, and at worst … a more hardline approach towards Saudi Arabia and the Gulf countries,” according to Abdulaziz Sager, Chairperson of the Riyadh-based Gulf Research Center, “There is a desire for clarity among Saudis in terms of what Biden’s concrete foreign policy would be towards Saudi Arabia.”

Biden’s relationship with Saudi Arabia is expected to cool, as he pledged to stop US support for the war in Yemen and raise human rights and democracy issues with the Saudis. However, many analysts believe that the Democrat Party’s promises to the Kingdom do not hold much weight, due to the nature of the strong relationship between the two countries.

Biden’s pledge on Yemen also contradicts his history. Former President Barack Obama’s administration sold billions of US dollars in weapons to Saudi Arabia, and the two countries maintained strong relations despite the coldness that was marred by disputes over many other files.

In a statement published on his campaign website, Biden said, “Under the Biden-Harris administration, we will reassess our relationship with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and end American support for Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen, and make sure that America does not back down from its values ​​of selling weapons or buying oil.”

He stressed that he would make Saudi Arabia pay the price for the killing of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi, and would deal with it as a pariah state.

Topics: elections US

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