Joe Biden is sworn in as the 46th President of the United States as his wife Jill Biden holds a bible on the West Front of the US Capitol in Washington. Picture: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters
Joe Biden is sworn in as the 46th President of the United States as his wife Jill Biden holds a bible on the West Front of the US Capitol in Washington. Picture: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

The Global Eye: Joe Biden’s approach to the Middle East

By Shannon Ebrahim Time of article published Jan 22, 2021

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In Donald Trump’s final hours as President he signed a slew of shocking executive orders, but none as horrifying as the one which condemns Yemeni civilians to starvation.

That is unless President Joe Biden immediately reverses Trump’s designation of the Houthi’s in Yemen’s civil war as a terrorist organisation. Trump didn’t care that his designation would mean that hundreds of thousands of Yemeni civilians living in Houthi controlled areas would not be able to receive desperately needed humanitarian food and medical aid, many of whom are already on the brink of starvation.

As Trump stepped off Air Force One for the last time and headed to Mar-a-Lago, he wouldn’t have given a passing thought to the fact that one of his last acts had hastened the death of millions of emaciated Yemeni children. His final legacy, other than to pardon those criminals closest to him, was to appease his Saudi/Israeli allies, most likely on Jared Kushner’s prompting.

Trump’s allies knew that Biden would not continue to back the Saudi-led war in Yemen, and so Trump would have been pressured to deal a death blow to the Iranian backed Houthi supporters. The UN has sent out an urgent warning that Trump’s decision would lead to a “famine not seen in 40 years.”

It would make it virtually impossible to deliver life-saving food and medicine to a country where almost 80 percent of the population, including 12 million children need urgent assistance.

Biden is unlikely to have the cosy relationship with Saudi Arabia’s ruling monarchy as Trump has had, and previously vowed to confront the kingdom over its human rights record. Biden called Saudi Arabia a pariah during his presidential campaign and was disgusted by the the dismembering and murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Kashoggi by Saudi authorities.

When it comes to Iran, Biden will seek to reverse much of the damage Trump did by pulling out of the JCPOA. He has said one of his early priorities will be to rejoin the nuclear agreement. Biden is particularly concerned that a nuclear armed Iran would set off an arms race in the region which would see Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Turkey seeking nuclear weapons as well.

But if Biden’s new foreign policy team thinks they can revamp the terms of the deal to impose more stringent restrictions and time lines on Iran, they should probably think again. The Iranian parliament has already voted against Foreign Minister Javad Zarif’s willingness to negotiate with the Americans, and there are a plethora of hardline candidates running in upcoming Iranian elections in June. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has made their position clear that “the ball is in America’s court” - his message is that the US must lift sanctions first and respect its obligations under the nuclear deal, and Iran will then return to full compliance.

That is not quite what the policy makers surrounding Biden have in mind. Avril Haines, Biden’s nominee for national intelligence head has suggested that a return to the JCPOA is not imminent, and believes Iran is a long way from compliance. Hardliners in Iran have little reason to trust another American administration after the betrayal of the last.

When it comes to the Israel’s continued illegal occupation of the Palestinian territories, Biden believes that Israel has to be prepared to work towards a genuine two state solution. But it is well known that a Palestinian state is of little interest to Israeli policy makers, many of whom backed Netanyahu’s plans to annex more Palestinian land.

A Biden administration is unlikely to be tolerant of further settlement expansion, and will restore aid to the West Bank and Gaza, and even to the UN Relief and Works Agency. But Biden will not probably go much further in standing by the Palestinians in their struggle against military occupation and for self-determination.

The US embassy is likely to remain in Jerusalem, and the new administration will probably not reverse US recognition of the Golan Heights as belonging to Israel.

* Ebrahim is Independent Media Group Foreign Editor.

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