Chronicle of the Middle East and North Africa

2024 US Elections’ Impact on Middle East Affairs | Analysis

As the US prepares for the 2024 presidential elections, the Middle East anxiously awaits the potential outcomes for regional dynamics.

2024 US Elections
This combination of pictures shows US President Joe Biden and former US President Donald Trump. Brendan Smialowski, Jim WATSON / AFP

Ali Noureddine

This article was translated from Arabic to English

In the United States’ approach to Middle East affairs in terms of foreign policy, certain elements remain consistent and resistant to rapid changes with the transition of administrations following each presidential election.

These elements predominantly pertain to fundamental, long-term strategic objectives that emanate from crucial American interests in the Middle East.

Nevertheless, notwithstanding the existence of these overarching constants, diverse U.S. approaches emerge in the region based on the orientations of each president, particularly in determining priorities and devising strategies to attain overarching strategic objectives.

The Elections’ impact on Middle Eastern Issues

For this reason, several Middle Eastern regimes are anxiously awaiting the arrival of the U.S. presidential elections in November 2024. The region is currently grappling with various interconnected conflicts, and the manner in which the United States chooses to intervene is pivotal in shaping the course of events.

The significance of these elections extends beyond their timing; it has become evident that the likelihood of securing the primary candidacy for the Republican Party is leaning toward former President Donald Trump, while current President Joe Biden is expected to represent the Democratic Party.

This sets the stage for an electoral contest between two candidates whose foreign policies have been experienced by the people of the region in two different periods. The stark contrast between their approaches to the region’s issues is clear.

Throughout their respective terms, Biden and Trump demonstrated diverging priorities across a multitude of regional matters, spanning from Iran‘s nuclear program and human rights concerns to their relationships with Arab Gulf states and the pressing Palestinian issue, which is of particular significance at this juncture.

Consequently, it is now possible to analyze and compare the potential future trajectories of U.S. involvement in the region under each candidate, depending on the outcome of the upcoming elections.

The Palestinian Issue and the Relationship with Israel

Since October 2023, the Biden administration has faced significant discontent from Americans of Arab and Muslim descent due to the substantial financial political, and military support the United States has provided Israel in its war against Gaza.

Furthermore, U.S. embassies in the Arab region have been reporting widespread discontent among the Arab masses regarding the administration’s handling of the ongoing onslaught, leading many analysts to predict a potential electoral setback for Biden.

To highlight the differences between Biden and his predecessor, Trump, it’s important to look at the nuances in the current administration’s relationship with the Israeli government. Despite Biden’s consistent and strategic support for Israel as a state, his dealings with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have been marked by noticeable tension.

The Biden administration has adhered to priorities that Netanyahu strongly opposes, such as supporting the establishment of a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders and advocating for a halt in illegal settlement construction in the West Bank.

In addition, the administration has expressed reservations about Netanyahu’s post-war plans for the Gaza Strip, particularly concerning suggestions of reoccupation or the creation of a buffer zone.

In contrast, the Trump administration pursued a foreign policy that diverged significantly. It did not consider West Bank settlements a violation of international law and recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, dismissing the idea of returning to the 1967 borders. This stance naturally led to a doubling of the size of settlements during Trump’s tenure.

Trump’s “deal of the century” failed to acknowledge the Palestinian Authority’s sovereignty over the West Bank, proposing control over security islands instead. In 2019, aid to the Palestinian Authority was halted, reflecting a strategy to diminish its influence and eliminate the possibility of negotiating full sovereignty in recognized Palestinian territories.

Analyses suggest that Trump’s victory in the upcoming elections would align favorably with the Israeli far right, particularly the Likud Party. Despite public criticism of Netanyahu, Trump is aligned with the political camp’s rejection of returning to 1967 borders, support for settlement construction, and opposition to any attempt to revitalize the Palestinian Authority.

Regarding the current conflict, a potential Trump victory could relieve the Israeli right-wing camp from the pressures imposed by the current American administration, which aims to revitalize the Palestinian Authority and empower it in the Gaza Strip.

Furthermore, the ruling right in Israel may find itself liberated from American influences urging the resumption of negotiations with the Palestinian Authority, seeking a return to the two-state solution outlined in the Oslo Accords.

However, in exchange for Trump’s alignment with the priorities of the Israeli far right, his administration might not demonstrate significant enthusiasm for robust military interventions in the region, contrasting with the proactive approach seen in several countries under the Biden administration.

Notably, Trump adheres to military retreat theories, provided that the United States retains its strategic dominance. This stance could result in Israel losing its balancing role to Iran in countries like Yemen, Syria and Iraq.

The Relationship with the Gulf States and Iran

Biden has taken a more assertive stance in his dealings with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, diverging significantly from Trump’s position. The initial strain in their relationship stemmed from human rights concerns, notably in the aftermath of journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s assassination. Tensions further escalated to encompass disputes over decisions to curb oil production, with Saudi Arabia, alongside Russia, facing pressure within the “OPEC+” alliance framework.

In contrast, the Saudi regime recalls Trump’s favorable disposition toward Riyadh, which began with his inaugural visit as president to the Kingdom. Trump, not prioritizing human rights in his foreign policies, was receptive to Saudi Arabia, viewing the relationship through a pragmatic lens that sought lucrative commercial contracts for his country.

Therefore, many anticipate that a Trump victory in the upcoming elections would align more favorably with the foreign policy goals pursued by bin Salman, diverging from the Biden administration’s approach.

Qatar and the United Arab Emirates might navigate avenues to safeguard their regional standing without American-Saudi reconciliation jeopardizing their interests, mirroring what transpired during Trump’s prior term.

Regarding Iran and its nuclear program, a potential Trump win is anticipated to maintain a stringent approach, akin to his previous term, marked by the cancellation of the nuclear agreement and heightened sanctions against Tehran.

In contrast, Biden continues to pursue a more conciliatory stance, particularly following recent agreements to exchange prisoners and release detained Iranian funds. Ongoing positive and discreet negotiations between the U.S. and Iran, mediated by Qatar, are progressing amid regional tensions stemming from the Gaza conflict.

It is important to recognize that the foreign policies of either candidate post-elections may deviate from their previous terms, influenced by various factors, including new alliances and regional understandings.

If Trump secures victory, the political landscape will evolve, potentially impacting Saudi-Iranian relations and the normalization efforts of certain Arab countries with the Syrian regime. This dynamic implies that aspects of Trump’s forthcoming foreign policy may not necessarily align with his past approaches.

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