Arab League chief condemns Israeli decisions in the West Bank as a complete overturn of the Oslo Accords

DUBAI: If US President Joe Biden and his rival Donald Trump’s remarks at Thursday’s election debate are anything to go by, it will be bad news for the Palestinian people, regardless of who wins the race for the White House in November.

Indeed, in his first televised broadcast of the US election campaign, Biden reiterated his commitment to stand with Israel in the war in Gaza and accused Hamas of resisting efforts to end the conflict.

Trump, for his part, called Biden a “weak and very bad Palestinian” — using the national group’s name as an insult — and argued that Israel should be given a free hand to finish the job in Gaza.

According to Firas Maksad, a senior fellow at the Washington-based Middle East Institute, the arguments put forward by the candidates during the debate cannot be considered their official positions.

“This is the worst American election campaign,” Maksad said on Arab News’ current affairs program “Frankly Speaking.” “We all know that US elections are usually silly season.

“No matter what the candidates say to get elected, they just have to turn around and change their position, or at least change their position and be more nuanced once they’re in the Oval Office. So, I think most of what has been said should be taken with a grain of salt.”

Firas Maksad, a senior fellow at the Washington-based Middle East Institute, stated on the program “Frankly speaking” that the arguments put forward by the candidates during the debate cannot be considered their official positions. (AN photo)

Maksad said it’s “quite shameful” that Trump is using the term Palestinian in a “derogatory way” in an attempt to undermine Biden by painting him as relatively pro-Palestinian. “It’s by both candidates bending over backwards to demonstrate their support for Israel.”

Maksad, who is also the Middle East Institute’s senior director of strategic outreach, believes that the style and tone of the debate is “just the reality of the American election dynamic” and should not be considered a specific political position of either candidate.

“We can pick examples in the past where candidates have said one thing about Middle Eastern nations, but they have reversed course and may even visit those countries after being elected president,” he said.

One point on which commentators agreed in the wake of the election debate was how poorly Biden performed — struggling to express his thoughts, fumbling over his words and pausing for long periods of time, raising new doubts about his cognitive abilities.

Although Trump is also prone to rambling speeches, commentators agreed that the Republican nominee delivered a more concise and agile performance than the Democratic incumbent.

“I think it’s safe to say that most Americans were shocked by the controversy that they saw,” Maksad told “Frankly Speaking” host Katie Jensen.

“Going into this, the goal of the Democratic Party was to make this about (Trump’s legal problems) first and foremost, not about President Biden’s cognitive abilities or lack thereof.

“I think what we saw clearly was that the Trump campaign had a great night, a celebratory night, while Democratic officials, fundraisers and most of the president’s supporters are wondering if it’s too late for the draft. in another last-minute, 11th-hour candidate.”

Although many commentators said Biden offered more substance in his speech, his poor performance appears to have cost him dearly in the eyes of voters.

“I’ve had this debate a lot with my close friends in the Democratic circle, some of whom have served in the White House, as this debate has been going on, and they’ve kept pointing to the point that we should listen to the bottom line. Our candidate has much more material,” Maksad said.

“Trump is actually rambling very little and saying very little about the substance, very little about the specific policy focus and the policy options that are on the table here. I think that’s true. I get the point, but I think how we meet the voters is just as important, if not more important, in elections and American elections.

“And it was abundantly clear that (former) President Trump was the more capable, more confident and more powerful in his stage presence in this debate.”

If those watching the debate were hoping to learn more about where the rivals stood on the big foreign policy issues of the day, they were sorely disappointed, as Biden and Trump focused primarily on domestic issues.

However, there were minor signs of similarities and differences in Middle Eastern politics.

“President Biden — he’s very supportive of diplomacy. Some could even say that it is to accommodate Iran in the region, its aspirations,” said Maksad. “President Trump — he’s much more confrontational when it comes to Iran and he wants to limit its influence in the region.

“But that doesn’t mean there aren’t similarities.” I think that when it comes to regional integration, the possible normalization of Saudi Arabia and Israel, we see bipartisanship here in Washington DC on these issues.”

Meanwhile, Gaza has become a deeply polarizing issue in the United States, even beyond the Arab and Muslim communities, with protests on college campuses across the country.

Asked whether the war is expected to affect the outcome of the election, Maksad said it is low on the priority list for most American voters.

“I think it’s not important, but it’s also very important,” he said. “When you consider the issues that are important to most Americans, the priorities, I don’t think Gaza is anywhere near the top.”

Since the conflict in Gaza began following the October 7 attack on Israel by Hamas, there are fears that the war will spread to the wider region. Lebanon, in particular, is seen as particularly vulnerable after months of baby-to-baby exchanges between Israel and Hezbollah.

Maksad, himself Lebanese and an expert on the nation’s troubled past, believes there are three likely scenarios as all-out war looks increasingly inevitable.

“One is the current diplomatic effort, which is headed by Amos Hochstein, President Biden’s special representative on this issue, the person on the subject who is visiting areas and working very closely with the French presidential delegation on this issue,” he said.

Such a diplomatic breakthrough would mean finding a way to get Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah to back down from his position on a permanent cease-fire in Gaza.

“This could happen through the Israeli withdrawal from the disputed points of the Blue Line, the border between Israel and Lebanon, and the northern Gaza Strip should be looked at,” Maksad said.

“But if the diplomatic breakthrough that we are all waiting for and hoping for does not materialize in the coming weeks, the second scenario here is a limited war … confined to the heavily populated areas of northern Israel and southern Lebanon.

“And the U.S. and French diplomacy will then step in to try to fix things diplomatically. And this can help us get out of the current stalemate.”

A “disaster scenario,” meanwhile, would be a situation that “starts from an attempt at a limited conflict, a limited war in northern Israel and southern Lebanon, and spreads very quickly to population centers like Beirut and Haifa and beyond. And we’re seeing the 2006 scenario on steroids as Israel flattens entire blocks of south Beirut.”

Britain’s Daily Telegraph newspaper recently suggested that Beirut’s Rafic Hariri International Airport is being used by Hezbollah to store and smuggle weapons. Although Hezbollah has denied the allegation, it is feared that Israel may use the claims to justify the airport.

“I’m not sure Israel needs justification to bomb Beirut International Airport,” Maksad said. “That’s what they’ve done in the past. This has been done several times. They cratered the runways. This was already done in the 1960s, when the PLO was the main concern from Lebanon.

“So Israel has a long history of targeting Lebanese infrastructure. I’m not even sure that this Telegraph article is what the Israelis are looking for.

“But having said that, given my Lebanese ancestry as well, I mean, I think every Lebanese knows that the airport is pretty much under the influence and control of Hezbollah or Hezbollah’s allies.”

He added: “Whether the Telegraph article is accurate about it being used as a storage base for Hezbollah’s missiles is beyond my ability to assess.”

Asked whether Hezbollah was likely to follow through on Nasrallah’s threat to attack Cyprus — a country that could host Israeli jets if Israel launched an air campaign against Hezbollah — Maksad said he believed the comments were merely an indication of possible expansion in Iran and its region. volt. his proxy in case of war.

“There are different opinions about why Hassan Nasrallah decided to include Cyprus in his list of threats in his recent speech,” he said.

“I think he thought first of all from a military point of view, where Israel, and especially the air force, would be able to operate if Hezbollah were to fire missiles at northern Israeli airfields and hamper Israel’s ability to operate against it. And Cyprus is high on the list of alternatives offered to Israel.

“But I think it also sends a broader message … about Hezbollah’s ability to intercept, disrupt and disrupt shipping in the eastern Mediterranean.

“And so here we have Iran, through Hezbollah, clearly indicating its ability to prevent and disrupt global trade, not just in Hormuz, not just in Bab Al-Mandeb, but in the eastern Mediterranean, arguably all the way to Suez.”

According to Firas Maksad, a senior fellow at the Washington-based Middle East Institute, the arguments put forward by the candidates during the debate cannot be considered their official positions. (AN photo)

He added: “This is part of Iran, indicating its ability to project influence and power into the Mediterranean, the Red Sea, and certainly the Arabian and Persian Gulfs.”

As turmoil rages across the Middle East as the United States turns its attention to upcoming elections, doubts have been raised about the possibility of a long-awaited US-Saudi deal.

“I see very little prospect of the Saudi-American deal moving forward,” Maksad said. “In effect, it will remain tied to an Israeli leg, which is predicated on a viable, irreversible path to a Palestinian state.

“But the politics are simply not there on the Israeli side, and not on the Palestinian side either. This is a suggestion that is completely devoid of reality on the Israeli and Palestinian side.

“Otherwise, the agreement itself, the bilateral aspects of this agreement have largely been negotiated and done. Whether it is a defense treaty, civil nuclear cooperation or trade, artificial intelligence and cyber, these issues have been successfully negotiated by both the US and Riyadh.

“But the problem is that if you’re going for a treaty that requires congressional, especially Senate, ratification, it’s hard to see the Senate accepting normalization with Israel.

“And normalization with Israel, given the very clear Saudi preconditions for a Palestinian state, or a path to a Palestinian state, simply doesn’t exist.”

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