Opinion

Care About Palestinians? Don't Vote for Joe Biden. Vote for Donald Trump

A second term for the most damaging, inflammatory, crudely partisan-to-Israel presidency in memory would actually strengthen the Palestinian cause in America. But Joe Biden would mess it all up

George Zeidan
George Zeidan
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U.S. President Donald Trump leaves a press conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, on May 19, 2020
U.S. President Donald Trump leaves a press conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, on May 19, 2020Credit: AFP
George Zeidan
George Zeidan

As a progressive Palestinian, and as bad as Donald Trump has been towards us, I would take him over Joe Biden.

You may think this is a joke, not least when his infamous Mideast "Deal of the Century" comes to mind, but as damaging and inflammatory as Trump has been towards the Palestinians, there have also been less visible, but still majorly significant, paybacks from his presidency. Those positive repercussions may not be tangible in the short term. But the impact of his presidency on future American public opinion regarding Israel is going to end up paying dividends for the Palestinian cause. 

The list of damaging policies that Trump has implemented towards the Palestinians is always worth enumerating. In December 2017, Trump recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, breaking with decades of official U.S. policy, and went on to bless the U.S. embassy’s move from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in May 2018. 

Three months later, his administration terminated funding for humanitarian programs supporting Palestinian refugees by ending a 70-year partnership with the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). Six months later, in February 2019, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) ceased all assistance to Palestinians in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, officially ending all forms of aid to the Palestinian Authority. 

After moving the embassy and curing aid, Trump waited just one month to endorse Israel's occupation over the Golan Heights. In his so-called peace plan, launched at the beginning of 2020, he "biblically" endorsed the annexation of most of Area C –  60 percent of the West Bank. More recently, his administration has green lighted a potential annexation of the West Bank. 

Palestinians protest against President Donald Trump's Mideast plan in the West Bank city of Ramallah. Feb. 11, 2020
Palestinians protest against President Donald Trump's Mideast plan in the West Bank city of Ramallah. Feb. 11, 2020Credit: Majdi Mohammed,AP

But all is not as it seems. Trump’s crude partisanship, his tunnel vision towards solely satisfying Israel’s territorial aspirations, has actually strengthened the Palestinian cause in the U.S. That’s because he has accelerated a process that was already in train for years: growing skepticism among Democrats about unconditional support for Israel, and rising insistence on ensuring Palestinian rights and freedom.

Nobody should underestimate the Trump presidency’s negative impact on Americans’ attitude towards Israel. It has opened eyes. Israel is no longer a clearcut bipartisan cause.

According to Pew, self-identified Republicans supporting Israel increased from 50 percent to 79 percent since 2001. Over the same period, Democrats sympathizing with Israel declined from 38 percent to 27 percent. Notably, Netanyahu’ endlessly sycophantic support for Trump has distanced the Israel he has led for so long, and shaped in his image, from the Democratic Party and its voters.

In the U.S. media, Palestinians are almost always discussed solely through the lens of Israel’s interests or Israel’s security. Since Trump took office, coverage of the oppression the Palestinians face under occupation both in U.S. media and all over the internet has spiked. For those U.S. voters implacable opposed to this presidency and everything it stands for, when Trump keeps putting a target on Palestinians’ backs, Palestinians are seen in a different light: with sympathy. It’s a variation of the old adage: The enemy of my enemy is my friend. 

U.S. President Donald Trump puts his hands on Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's shoulders at the White House launch of Trump’s Middle East peace plan. January 28, 2020
U.S. President Donald Trump puts his hands on Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's shoulders at the White House launch of Trump’s Middle East peace plan. January 28, 2020Credit: JOSHUA ROBERTS/ REUTERS

As on every other issue, Trump opponents, including those in the mainstream media, have shed light on his unprecedented policies in Palestine and Israel. There has been a new confidence in heavy, televised criticism of some of Israel's policies. Israel has become entangled with, even indistinguishable from, one of the most reviled presidents of modern times. 

The slow transformation within the Democratic Party towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict predates Trump, but has gone up several gears. It can be traced back to December 2016, when Secretary of State John Kerry gave a speech – following the U.S.’s unprecedented decision to abstain, not oppose, a UN Security Council resolution condemning Israel’s settlement policy – that used terms elevating the Palestinians to equal status with the Israelis. 

More recently, major progressive Democratic candidates like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren joined with party moderates like Pete Buttigieg in skipping AIPAC conference this year. They put out the possibility of conditioning military aid to Israel on its behavior towards the Palestinians. Popular young members of Congress, figures like the members of "The Squad," have vocally called for respecting Palestinian human rights, criticizing the brutality of the occupation, and advocating heavily to end it. This is new, and very different from the traditional Democratic Party.

Attendees taking part in a Shabbat in The Park with U.S. Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib, hosted by Jewish Voice for Peace Action in Detroit, Michigan, August 16, 2019.
Attendees taking part in a Shabbat in The Park with U.S. Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib, hosted by Jewish Voice for Peace Action in Detroit, Michigan, August 16, 2019.Credit: REBECCA COOK/REUTERS

The pro-Israel lobbyists face another challenge: the full absorption of the Palestinian cause into intersectional progressive politics. This intersectionality, which again has been building for some time, with LGBTQ groups, anti-occupation Jewish activists, the Black Lives Matter movement, anti-imperialist activists, and anti-racist campaigners long-time pro-Palestinian allies – has naturally been supercharged by the Trump presidency. A recent poll conducted by YouGov shows that a plurality of American voters support reducing aid to Israel for its human rights violations, with 45 percent supporting an aid cut to Israel on those grounds.

Since Trump took office, U.S. and Israeli leaders have not even stopped to take breath from their efforts to emphasize the current strength of Israel - U.S. relationship, reiterating that the bond is unbreakable. But the truth is that the blindly pro-Israel bloc is shrinking. It is now constrained by the limits of the Republican Party’s writ.

And what would Joe Biden do? He would mess it all up. Trump is exploiting political partisanship, exploding bipartisanship, tying Israel to his presidency and his party. But Biden would work hard to turn back the clock, and make backing Israel and relegating the Palestinians a bipartisan cause again. 

Then-U.S. Vice President, now Democratic presidential hopeful Joe Biden speaks in Jerusalem in March 9, 2016
Then-U.S. Vice President, now Democratic presidential hopeful Joe Biden speaks in Jerusalem in March 9, 2016Credit: AFP

For Palestinians, Biden will take us back to the Obama era, when the most Palestinians got lip service while U.S. military support for Israel climbed to its highest level ever. Indeed, his advisors have already declared that Biden "completely opposes" any conditionality of U.S. military assistance to Israel on any political decisions Israel makes, including annexation. 

I know what people will say: Biden is way better for the Palestinians. He will resume funding for the Palestinian Authority, for humanitarian aid, and reopen the U.S. consulate in East Jerusalem. And what else? Are these crumbs what we really want? I personally would take another four years of Trump, and aim for long term and far more substantial change. For Palestinians, we survived the first term of President Trump, and we will find a way to get through another one.

The Trump presidency has helped change American grassroots opinions towards Palestine and Israel within the Democratic left. We should not underestimate the impact of another Trump presidential term on how Americans perceive unconditional support for Israel. In four years’ time, I imagine a very different America – and a very different Palestine and Israel.

George Zeidan is co-founder of Right to Movement Palestine, an initiative to illustrate the reality of Palestinian life through sports.  A Fulbright awardee with a masters degree from the Price School of Public Policy, University of Southern California, he works for an international humanitarian organization in Jerusalem. He grew up in Jerusalem’s Old City