The U.S. election is over and Joe Biden is president-elect, but President Donald Trump still has 69 more days in office before he has to leave the White House. Will he pursue new policy goals in the Middle East during this period? Will his administration leave lasting damage to their successors before heading out? And what will Biden do on day one of his tenure?
On Wednesday, Haaretz convened a special Zoom briefing for readers and subscribers on the aftermath of the election and the implications it has for Israel and the region. Senior defense analyst Amos Harel and incoming diplomatic correspondent Judy Maltz discussed the results and the steps ahead.
Following the discussion, which was moderated by Amir Tibon, readers were able to present questions to Amos and Judy. Here are some of their answers. (Quotes have been abbreviated to provide clarity. Watch the video above for the full dialogue.)
What will be the legacy of the Trump administration in the Middle East, and how will we look at it ten years from today?
Harel: The answer probably depends on your politics, your ideology. I think right-wing Israelis will remain sympathetic to Trump, but a lot of gestures he made toward Israel are just that – gestures. Moving the embassy to Jerusalem, recognizing sovereignty over the Golan Heights, this was appreciated not only on the right, but also among many Israelis from the center. But I think in the long run, the discussion will be different. There will be strategic questions, such as – was he really good against Iran? How did he act on Syria?
The most positive that happened under him are the normalization deals with the Sunni Arab states, that’s the most helpful thing that Trump actually did. On the negative side, the most important issue is the non-presidential leadership that he presented to the world in the last few years, this will be his real legacy and it’s a very negative thing.
Was Trump overall good for Israel?
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Maltz: Good for Israel is such an ambivalent term, what do we mean by saying that? Good for the entire country, good for the government, good for Prime Minister Netanyahu, good for the settlers? Certainly for Netanyahu he was good, and for the settlers he was better than any president beforehand. Was he good for most Israelis, do most Israelis feel that it has improved their lives in any way that the embassy has moved to Jerusalem? (For) Israelis who live in the Golan Heights, has their life been improved by the fact that America recognized Israeli sovereignty there? These are very declarative things. For people who have to send their kids to the army, has their lives gotten better, are they less concerned when they go to sleep at night? No.
What modifications could a Biden administration add to the Iran nuclear deal?
Harel: What Israel expects more than anything else is more focus on surveillance over the possible military aspects of the Iranian nuclear plan. Israel will also expect Biden to delay as much as possible the "sunset clause” that ends the agreement, to prevent them from reaching a nuclear weapon in the future. Israel will also expect Biden to address key issues that were ignored by the Obama administration, one of them is stopping Iran from helping terror organizations all over the region, and the second is Iran’s ballistic missile program.
Will Biden wait until Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas are gone before engaging in Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations?
Maltz: Having Netanyahu and Abbas in power is not an ideal situation for relaunching negotiations, but I don’t think that’s the reason the Biden administration is not going to do it right away. They’re going to wait because they have so many more pressing issues to deal with, this is not going to be a top priority.
Will Biden want to continue Trump’s diplomatic efforts toward normalization between Israel and Arab countries, specifically in the Gulf area?
Maltz: Biden has already come out and welcomed these agreements, I don’t see him trying to rule anything back. I think it’s just as much in Biden’s interest to promote these agreements as it was in Trump’s interest, but I think now that Trump has lost reelection, it will take a little more time until we see more progress.
Should we expect big moves in the Middle East by the Trump administration in the two months before he leaves the White House?
Harel: I think it’s possible. We just had a “Monday Night Massacre” at the Pentagon, and there is sort of a messianic atmosphere around Trump and the White House, that could affect foreign policy issues. The arena where action looks most likely is Iran. They’re trying to change more of the facts on the ground, to make it harder for the next administration to reach a policy of its own regarding Iran. The general assumption in Washington is that more pressure on Iran right now would put Iran in a tough spot. There was a report in the New York Times that hinted that something more sinister may be going on, that maybe Trump wants to go out with a bang, with a big military strike on either Iran or Venezuela. Personally I prefer that it would be Venezuela, not around here.