Dynamic duo - GulfToday

Dynamic duo

Michael Jansen

The author, a well-respected observer of Middle East affairs, has three books on the Arab-Israeli conflict.

The author, a well-respected observer of Middle East affairs, has three books on the Arab-Israeli conflict.


Joe Biden and Kamala Harris

Since the Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden finally appointed California Senator Kamala Harris as his running mate in the Nov.l election, it is useful to look at where the duo stands on US regional policies.

Last week, Biden praised the UAE-Israel accord to normalise relations in exchange for Israeli suspension of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s plan to annex up to 30 per cent of the occupied West Bank. Biden reiterated his opposition to annexation and pledged, if elected, he and his running mate Kamala Harris, both of whom endorse the “two state solution,” would promote peace in this region.  

Entering the Senate for the first time in 1972 at the age of 29, Biden has long been a friend of Israel. He was re-elected six times before stepping down to become President Barack Obama’s vice president in 2009.

In 1973 Biden paid his first visit to Israel where he met Prime Minister Golda Meir shortly before the October war. During a later visit to Washington by Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, Biden warned him against expanding Israeli colonies in occupied Palestinian territory as this could risk support for financial aid to Israel. Begin rebuffed Biden by saying, “Don’t threaten us with slashing aid” and said that providing aid did not means the US could “impose on him what we must do.” Nevertheless, Biden responded by asserting that he did not support everything Israel did.

While a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Biden opposed the 1991Gulf war, backed US and Nato intervention in Bosnia in 1994-95, and voted in favour of the 2003 US war on Iraq. However, he stood against the 2007 “surge” against Iraqis resisting the US occupation. As vice president Biden played an active role in the formulating and promoting Obama administration’s foreign policy. In contrast to Obama who was seen as hostile to Israel by Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu, Biden cultivated warm relations with Israel.  

Biden has been castigated by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for criticising his campaigns against the Kurds. Curbing Erdogan’s regional ambitions and actions should become a major priority for Washington to prevent destabilisation of the Eastern Mediterranean and the Levant.  

Biden contributed to policy on Iraq which led to the withdrawal of US troops at the end of 2011. However, Iraqis remain concerned because he, arrogantly, proposed to divide their country into three parts along sectarian lines.

Despite Israeli opposition and efforts by Israeli intelligence operatives to discredit the administration’s efforts to engage with Tehran, Biden supported the 2015 deal for dismantling Iran’s nuclear programme in exchange for lifting sanctions. At the same time he reassured Israel that the US was committed to its security. As proof of loyalty has attended the annual convention of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the US pro-Israel lobby.

In March 2016, Biden visited the UAE where he met Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed al Nahyan, crown prince of Abu Dhabi and UAE president, and Sheikh Muhammad bin Rashid al Maktoum, UAE vice president and prime minister. This was the first visit to the Emirates of a top level US official since President George W. Bush came in 2008.  

If elected president, Biden has promised to re-join the Iran nuclear deal and abandon Donald Trump’s destructive “maximum pressure” campaign on Iran which has not only harmed the Iranian people but also negatively impacted Syria, Lebanon and Iraq.

Biden has capitulated to pro-Israeli pressure by removing a reference to Israeli “occupation” of Palestinian territory from his party’s election platform although this had been included for the first time by Democratic progressives. He has said he would not reverse Trump’s shift of the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem which gave legitimacy to Israel’s illegal occupation and annexation of the holy city.   

The first African-Asian US woman to be nominated for the vice presidency, Kamala Harris has a reputation for battling for US civil rights and equality. Nevertheless, she has long adopted a pro-Israel stance and spoke twice at AIPAC’s conferences.

She favours the “two state solution” although she believes it must be “agreed upon by the parties themselves.” She is seen as pro-AIPAC, which has been captured by Israeli hardliners, rather than supportive of the liberal J Street pro-Israel lobby which is backed by the Democratic party Congressional caucus.  She rebuked the Obama administration for failing to veto a UN Security Council resolution which deemed illegal Israel’s colonisation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem.  

She supported the Iran nuclear deal and opposes the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement seeking to put pressure on Israel to halt colonisation of Palestinian territory and repression of the Palestinian people.

However, in 2019, Harris joined 23 Democratic senators to vote against a bill that encouraged states to restrict the rights of supporters of BDS as it violated freedom of speech. She has spoken against the Israeli government’s plan to annex portions of the West Bank. Citing former Israeli defence and intelligence officials, she has argued that this “could result in serious conflict, the further breakdown of security cooperation with Palestinian security forces, and the disruption of peaceful relations between Israel and her neighbours, Jordan and Egypt.”

Harris has criticised Saudi Arabia over the war in Yemen and the murder of dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.  She castigated Trump for withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal and warned that it “jeopardises our national security and isolates us from our closest allies.” She criticised Trump’s assassination in Baghdad in January of Iranian general Qassem Soleimani as this “enflamed tensions and destabilised the region.”

Both candidates’ records are mixed. Unlike the Israel-subservient Trump administration, they support Israel but have not accepted all Israel’s demands or agreed with Trump’s revocation of the Iran nuclear deal. They must take into consideration that the Democratic party, propelled leftwards by progressives led by Bernie Sanders, has become increasingly pro-Palestinian. Having once been the backbone of the US pro-Israel lobby, liberal US lawmakers and voters have come to see that Democrats cannot battle racism and discrimination at home while dismissing the Palestinian struggle against Israeli occupation. It is significant that in Congressional party primary elections pro-Palestinian Ilhan Omar and Cory Bush have defeated candidates strongly backed by the Israel lobby.   

“Blind support for Israel now no longer helps candidates, but is even becoming a hindrance for them,” stated Ariel Gold, national co-director of Code Pink, an anti-war feminist group which has long backed the Palestinian cause.

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