Media Microscope: A Cuppa Joe


It was inevitable that Donald Trump’s failure to win a second term would see the commentariat hypothesising about what a Biden presidency might mean for the Middle East.

In the Sydney Morning Herald (Oct. 29), academic Timothy Lynch opined that “Trump has not given priority to the Palestinian cause. But Obama did that and achieved zilch. Trump’s Abraham accords, on the other hand, have left Israel more secure with more of its neighbours than since 1948. Even Sudan, one of the world’s most anti-Semitic regimes, has now recognised Israel as per Trump’s latest deal. Remarkable.”

On the ABC website (Nov. 5), the ABC’s international affairs analyst Stan Grant recalled that Biden was vice president during the Obama administration whose foreign policies “exacerbated an already dangerous world… Obama underestimated the rise of Islamic State and failed to enforce his own red lines in Syria after Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons against his own people.”

On ABC TV “The World” (Nov. 5), Riyadh-based academic Joseph Kechichian said the prospect of a revived Iran nuclear deal is creating “a lot of tension in the region especially…the Gulf countries, led by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and others [who] are very much concerned about what Iran might be doing in the region… in Iraq, in Lebanon, in Syria, in Yemen and elsewhere.” 

Kechichian also said, with considerable exaggeration, that vice president-elect Kamala Harris’ “insiste[nce] that the Palestinians will be given their due” breaks with “every” previous administration which have “been very pro-Israel and has seldom wavered from this kind of line.”

Agreeing with host Beverley O’Connor’s suggestion that Harris’ stance could “potentially…bring the region closer to peace than necessarily the Trump approach”, Kechichian said, “there is a real hunger” in the region to make peace with Israel because “people are tired after almost 100 years of warfare” but “we will have to wait and see whether or not the maturity process in the West, especially in the United States, will translate into effective results on the ground.”

A Reuters report on the ABC website (Nov. 8) speculated that “Biden’s pledge to restore US involvement in the Iran nuclear deal and a likely opposition by the White House to Israeli settlement of occupied land where Palestinians seek statehood” may see a return to the “acrimonious” relationship of the Obama years.

On ABC TV “The World” (Nov. 10), ABC Middle East correspondent Eric Tlozek predicted “things are not suddenly expected to reverse under the new administration, but around the diplomatic mission, things are expected to change. No one expects President Biden would suddenly move the US Embassy back to Tel Aviv…the hope…within the Palestinian leadership is that this may lead to greater cooperation with the US…possibly a new peace process and the rejection of the Trump so-called deal of the century…that would have seen Israel take around a third of the territory in the West Bank.” 

Trump’s plan was a reflection of the lack of input from Palestinian leaders who boycotted the process. Moreover, the Trump Administration made it clear that the Palestinians would be invited to negotiate about the details on territory and other issues if they returned to the negotiating table. 

A brief in News Corp papers (Nov. 14) said Biden is “a past critic of settlements who has pledged to put more diplomatic effort into creating a Palestinian state.” 

More “effort”? Since 1991 every US Administration, including Trump’s, has invested considerable time and energy in trying to create a Palestinian state. Nor is this a fair reflection of anything Biden has said.

In Nine Newspapers (Nov. 15), Age features editor Maher Mughrabi said reviving the Iran nuclear deal “risks alienating Saudi Arabia and Israel” and Biden will need to reassure all sides that “their interests will be protected”. He noted VP-elect Harris’ commitment to “resume economic assistance to the Palestinians” but added, “whether Biden is really willing to advance the cause of Palestinian freedom in the face of Israeli and domestic opposition remains to be seen.”

The only factor impeding “Palestinian freedom” is the refusal of Palestinian leaders to accept repeated offers to create two states for two peoples, or even return to negotiations toward this end. 

The Guardian (Nov. 17) editorialised its concern that Trump may use his remaining time as President to “pursue a scorched-earth policy – perhaps upping the pressure on Tehran so that it hits back, making it far harder to salvage the nuclear deal.”