Tough tests for Biden in ‘new’ Middle East
WASHINGTON, Jan 22: Trump Heights, Trump Square, Trump train terminal: Israel isn't shy about honouring Donald Trump, who is widely admired among Israelis for his staunch support of their country.
But in the Palestinian territories, no US president was openly reviled as much as Trump, or depicted in such unflattering terms in portraits and effigies across the Gaza Strip and the occupied West Bank.
In four years, Trump overturned decades of US policy in the Middle East. Joe Biden will want to undo many of those changes during his presidency, but his freedom for manoeuvre will be limited.
At his Senate confirmation hearing on Tuesday, Biden's choice for secretary of state, Antony Blinken, signalled that countering Iran would be central to Biden's Middle East agenda.
But Blinken said the United States was "a long way" from rejoining the 2015 pact with Iran - restraining Tehran's nuclear programme - which the United States quit under Trump. Biden and his team have said they will restore ties with the Palestinians that were cut by Trump, resume aid and reject unilateral actions, such as construction of Israeli settlements on occupied territory.
But Blinken said the U.S. embassy in Israel would remain in Jerusalem, which Trump recognised as Israel's capital. Four Trump-brokered diplomatic deals between Israel and Arab states are also likely to remain - they have bipartisan support in Washington and brought a strategic realignment of Middle East countries against Iran.
So too is Trump's acceptance of Israeli sovereignty over the occupied Golan Heights, which Israel captured from Syria in a 1967 war and annexed in a move not recognised internationally.
Biden's challenge will be how to walk back not just Trump-era policy - and the polarisation triggered by the man who said he had "done a lot for Israel" - without being accused of retreating altogether from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. "He will try to project an image of fairness and balance," Michele Dunne, Director of the Middle East Program at the U.S. based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told Reuters.
"There is no question that Biden's policies towards the Middle East will be quite different from those of Trump; the question is how different they will be from those of (former President Barack) Obama... I doubt that Biden sees the conflict as ripe for U.S. diplomacy right now." -REUTERS