Will Biden unravel openings for toilers in the Middle East?

By Seth Galinsky
February 15, 2021

Will President Joe Biden jettison the Donald Trump administration’s Mideast moves that pushed forward the establishment of diplomatic relations between Israel and Arab and Muslim regimes? This extension of mutual recognition is good for working people in Israel, Palestine and the Middle East and can open the door to further advances.

On Feb. 1, the government of Kosova established diplomatic relations with Israel, joining the governments of Bahrain, Morocco, Sudan and the United Arab Emirates, which did so last year. Kosova officials say it will open its embassy in Jerusalem, not Tel Aviv, the first Muslim-majority country to do so.

These regimes see the moves as an opportunity to expand trade and other ties, boosting the profits of their capitalist classes.

Many of these regimes also see the pacts as a way to counter the Shiite-clerical regime in Iran, their major rival. The rulers of Saudi Arabia see Tehran’s military intervention and its organizing of armed groups in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen as a threat. The Saudi government itself, one of the main backers of the accords, has not yet recognized Israel.

Openings for working people

For workers, union activists, farmers, artists and others — be they Palestinian, Jewish, Arab, Kurdish, Turkish, or Persian — the pacts increase possibilities to meet each other, to work side by side, to discuss, debate and act together in common struggles.

Shifts in relations between Arab and Israeli governments are evident in other ways. In November, the Moroccan primary school system released a syllabus that incorporates Moroccan Jewish history and culture, the first time any Arab country has done so.

A Palestinian leadership worthy of the Palestinian people’s national aspirations would take advantage of these shifts by agreeing to immediate talks to recognize the right of Israel to exist and to win recognition of a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital. It would support the right of Jews around the world — in the face of rising anti-Semitic attacks — to take refuge in Israel. Neither the Palestinian National Authority nor Gaza-based Hamas have done so.

In a 2017 statement “For Recognition of a Palestinian State and of Israel,” Socialist Workers Party National Secretary Jack Barnes wrote, “Working people of all national backgrounds, religious beliefs and political allegiances in Israel and Palestine can use and defend their space to speak, organize and begin redressing the blood-drenched legacy of imperialist domination and capitalist exploitation.

“These historic outrages,” Barnes wrote, “include ruthless colonial and national oppression across the Arab and Muslim countries, as well as the genocidal crimes of the Holocaust.”

The SWP, he says, is “for whatever helps working people organize and act together. … We are for whatever renews our class solidarity and self-confidence, advancing us along a revolutionary course toward a united struggle for workers power.”

Return to Obama’s policies?

Biden says he backs the Abraham Accords, while refusing to grant any credit to Trump for their signing. But his foreign policy team and initial moves have the Israeli government and some  in the U.S. ruling class concerned that he intends to return to the policies of the Barack Obama White House.

Columnist Hugh Hewitt warned in the Jan. 31 Washington Post that “of all the accomplishments of the Trump administration, the one that seemed least likely to fall under President Biden … were the Abraham Accords. No longer.”

Obama acted on the belief that his administration’s pressure on and criticism of the Israeli government would result in talks with Palestinian leaders. That never happened. No improvement in relations between Israel and the Palestinians or Arab regimes took place during Obama’s tenure. Attacks between Israeli forces and Hamas and other Palestinian groups that oppose the existence of Israel occurred regularly.

Two weeks after his inauguration Biden had still not called Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

But Biden’s State Department suspended the sale of F-35 jets to the government of the United Arab Emirates Jan. 27 for further review. The sale had been approved by Trump after the UAE became the first Arab government to recognize Israel in 26 years last August.

Secretary of State Anthony Blinken says that Washington plans to end U.S. military support for Saudi airstrikes on Yemen, part of a bloody conflict against Tehran-backed Houthi combatants.

Revive Iran pact?

Biden says one of his priorities is to revive the 2015 deal with the Iranian government aimed at restricting its acquisition of nuclear weapons, which the Trump administration pulled out of in 2018.

But Blinken says Tehran’s actions since then mean “we are a long way from” going back to that pact. The Iranian government insists Washington must lift the crippling sanctions imposed by Trump on the country, or Tehran will not abide by any restrictions on its development of nuclear or other weapons. It has developed ballistic missiles and used cruise missiles to strike oil fields in Saudi Arabia.