What now for the Middle East?

What now for the Middle East?

And just like that – the chess board has changed.

Whatever else you and I might think of Trump, he was an undoubted friend of Israel and during his tenure as US President we’ve seen a huge shift toward the normalisation of international views toward that country. These have included the relocation of a number of embassies to the nation’s capital in Jerusalem, frank and open dialogue around the extent of Israeli settlements into disputed territories, and the signing of a number of peace accords with Israel’s neighbours which normalise relations, foster trade and commerce, and hold out the genuine possibility that a lasting peace might finally be achievable.

It’s a remarkable legacy.

Back in 2016, when Trump was first elected, few of us would have seriously credited him with the ability to achieve these gains – and now, it’s difficult to see how they could have happened under anyone else. But that’s all now history. Regardless of the result of the current dramas playing out in Washington DC, Joe Biden will be the next US President and we’ll almost certainly see a change in US foreign policy toward Israel.

But what form might those changes take? There certainly seems to be confusion around Biden’s stance on Israel with at least one Palestinian Official blasting him as a ‘Zionist’ and some Israeli pundits saying that he will make Abbas great again. To be fair, the fact that there are such varying views on his position should probably give us some comfort as they’re likely to indicate a balanced approach rather the more extreme stance taken by other Democratic party hopefuls like Bernie Sanders – but it’s still a long way from the strong support provided to Israel, by Trump, since 2016.

My expectation – or perhaps my hope – is that Biden’s approach to Israel won’t be as dramatic as some fear. The US Embassy will stay in Jerusalem, the peace accords will stand, and the process of normalisation between Israel and its Middle Eastern neighbours will continue with US support. Where we might expect to see big differences will be in the re-opening of negotiations around a two-state solution – something that successive Democratic Presidents have seen as an elusive prize and one which Biden will seek to claim for himself. The key difference in this is that the Palestinian Authority no longer appears to have the leverage it once enjoyed with many of the neighbouring Middle Eastern states and there’s a possibility that this may lead to a more pragmatic approach to any negotiations. Only time will tell.

Meantime, don’t expect to see much change in New Zealand’s approach to Israel as a result of the US election. Sadly, our nation has long since moved from being a strong supporter of Israel to – in the eyes of some, at least – a poster child for many of the attitudes which we traditionally associate with Europe and nations which openly promote antisemitic views.

The chess board has changed – but the game continues.