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Interview: AIJAC’s Ahron Shapiro with SBS Radio’s Nitza Lowenstein on what a Biden Administration may mean for Israel, Iran and the Peace Process

Nov 16, 2020 | Ahron Shapiro

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Ahron Shapiro: Shalom, I am Ahron Shapiro, a senior policy analyst at the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council.

 

Nitza Lowenstein: And we spoke to you last week about the election results, about why Donald Trump was contesting the results. What can you tell us now a week later?

 

Ahron Shapiro: Well, I’d say that things are looking worse and worse for President Trump. He claims to have cases in play to contest the election, but the rest of the world is moving on. Whether his legal cases will bear fruit, everyone would be highly sceptical at this point. So we’re looking now at the Biden Administration and what they’re going to do in their transition.

 

Nitza Lowenstein: Ahron, I wanted to ask you, what do you think would be the new US Administration policies towards Israel in the Middle East? I think this is the big question that the Israelis are wondering and the Jewish communities around the world, what really Joe Biden and Kamala Harris will do now as far as foreign policies, are they going to continue Barack Obama’s policies or do you think that something fresh will come out of it?

 

Ahron Shapiro: I think that something different will come out of it. And of course, there’s no way to be sure. But I’ll tell you something. When Barack Obama was elected, Joe Biden was his choice to balance the ticket. So Obama was coming from the left and Biden was was known everywhere as somebody right down the centre, [to his] right. So today, the Democratic Party has chosen to flip the ticket. And so Biden is the centre and he’s leading it. And he chose a vice president who was representing the left more. So I think that if Joe Biden is true to his 47 years in Congress and in the Senate and all these things in Washington, his record is overwhelmingly pro-Israel. And the thing is, if we were not [just] coming out of a Trump presidency, we would be all talking about, oooh, well, Joe Biden is such a good friend of Israel because his history is just that.

 

Nitza Lowenstein: We are talking to Ahron Shapiro, senior policy analyst at AIJAC, and you’re listening to SBS Shalom Australia with Nitza Lowenstein. Ahron, Joe Biden was behind Obama or with Obama about the Iran agreement. What do you think will happen now? I think this is a big concern to Israel.

Ahron Shapiro: Well, I think that is the biggest concern because everything else seems less so. What’s important to remember again is that Joe Biden was never going to contradict Obama on the Iran deal. But on the other hand, there’s no indication that he was behind the ideology that brought about the Iran nuclear deal. So Joe Biden, it’s very unlikely that if he had been the presidential choice in 2008 – he wasn’t – but if he had been, I don’t think we would have seen an Iran nuclear deal because he just wouldn’t have gone that way. It wasn’t his way. So today, yes, he does talk about returning to the deal in some way. But he also says, and I believe I quote, that he wants to rejoin the agreement as a starting point for follow on negotiations to strengthen and extend it. So he’s not completely oblivious to the changes that have happened since 2015, not at all. He’s looking, he sees that even if the US goes back to the [deal] they would be looking at a deal… that may start to end within four years and that’s not a lasting deal. So I do think that he will probably be looking to, not just immediately go straight back to the deal, but gradually offer incentives to Iran to start paring back their nuclear activity while the US looks for ways to get leverage, to make those negotiations to extend the deal and to make it cover things like ballistic missiles. Of course, we don’t know because Biden could be listening to different advisers. And within the Democratic Party, there’s a wide spectrum of opinion about what to do about Iran from the ones who believe to go straight back to the deal is the best thing, and the ones who think that it should be improved upon, and ones that agree with the Republican opinion about it and you have that. You certainly have that in the Democratic Party and will be interesting to see who Biden will choose to advise him.

Nitza Lowenstein: On these matters, we are talking to Ahron Shapiro, a policy analyst at AIJAC. Ahron, what about the peace process in the Middle East? Do you think that the new Administration will impose the two-state solution?

Ahron Shapiro: Well, it’s not a matter of not imposing anything. I think that the two-state solution is the US position, whether the Trump Administration, you know, he sort of softened it completely to where he said whatever the parties want. But if you actually go around Congress, you’ll see that there is support for two states. And if you go to AIPAC, two states is the only show in town about a future for the Israelis and Palestinians that both looks at Israel’s security needs and right to exist as a Jewish state and the Palestinians’ right for self-determination. So I think they will certainly, the Democratic Party is universal in this. And so they will go back to making that the full throated position of the United States. But you would have to say that the question is to what extent are they going to pressure Israel to do anything? And I don’t think there is an appetite in the current climate in the United States where you have the pandemic and you have the economy and all these things. I don’t think reviving the peace process is a major concern for the Biden Administration, and I don’t see how that will become a big thing. Also, if you look on the Palestinian side, there isn’t a lot of energy there to start to revive things.

What they will do, I think, is try and preserve the option of a two-state outcome. And yes, that means that they’ll look for ways to get Israel to only look at settlements in places that would be swapped in a two-state outcome, perhaps that would become part of Israel. [They may] try and pressure Israel not to build deep in the [territories]. Now, will they do that so openly, the way that Obama did with all the criticism openly? That’s another question, because, you know, Biden himself said many years ago, he said the only time that the Arabs will make peace with Israel is when they see that the US and Israel are completely united on things. And I think that Biden, if you go back in again in his history of pro-Israel statements and his association with Zionism – and he says, I am a Zionist. I’m not Jewish, but I am a Zionist – these are strong words by American politicians. And so if you go back to that, you’d say, well, is Biden going to try and do things quietly or is he going to make an open rift with Israel? And I think that Biden’s way is to do things quietly, but that doesn’t mean that he won’t get results.

Nitza Lowenstein: Ahron, before I let you go, we all live in Australia, most of our listeners are Australians, and we are wondering how their foreign policies will affect us here.

Ahron Shapiro: There is the issue of China.

Nitza Lowenstein: That’s exactly right. That’s what I meant. Well, well, about.

Ahron Shapiro: And the interesting thing is that Biden’s administration is not expected to make any major changes about US policy towards China. They are concerned about China. They’ll continue to be concerned about China. How they express it is expected to be different. So they will have a softer tone. But every indication is that the U.S. is not about to give in to China on a lot of issues. And this is this is one thing that has bipartisan support that the Democrats and Republicans are not too far apart on the concern about China. So in the short term, we won’t see any major changes.

Nitza Lowenstein: Ahron Shapiro, senior policy analyst at AIJAC, thank you so much

To listen to the full interview, click here.

Photo by Adam Schultz / Biden for President

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