Election 2020

Palestinians Are Hoping for Anyone but Trump

They don’t have great hopes for Biden—but they’re desperate for a change in Washington.

This article is part of Election 2020: America Votes, FP’s round-the-clock coverage of the U.S. election results as they come in, with short dispatches from correspondents and analysts around the world. The America Votes page is free for all readers.

Joe Biden looks at his phone while attending a meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at the Presidential compound on March 10, 2010 in Ramallah, West Bank.
Joe Biden looks at his phone while attending a meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at the Presidential compound on March 10, 2010 in Ramallah, West Bank. Pool/Getty Images

When Donald Trump was elected president in 2016, the Palestinian refugees languishing in the Burj al-Barajneh refugee camp in Lebanon felt they had been proved right about America’s vision for the region. He was pro-Israel and did not pretend otherwise. But the refugees, young and old, nevertheless took this as a sign of hope: If anyone could get a deal that would secure a Palestinian state, it would be the straight-talking Trump.

After four years of Trump’s presidency, however, they have never been so desperate for a change of guard at the White House. Trump moved the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem without any regard to Palestinian sentiment, cut humanitarian aid to Palestinian refugees, and declared that the United States would consider it entirely acceptable if a future Palestinian state never comes into existence. Trump’s much-touted attempt at a peace deal, dubbed the “deal of the century” by the president, was so tilted to Israeli interests that it was a non-starter for the Palestinian leadership.

Palestinians don’t expect much from Democratic challenger Joe Biden either. A self-professed Zionist, Biden will consider neither cutting off defense aid to Israel nor reversing Trump’s decision to move the embassy. He has been quiet on the future of refugees and their right to return to their original homeland. Marie Kortam, a third-generation Palestinian refugee and a sociologist, texted “LOL” when I asked if Biden would be better for Palestinian refugees like her. “There is nothing in Biden’s program on Palestinian refugees,” she said. “He will also implement a lopsided pro-Israel U.S. foreign policy, but at least he will not be as bad as Trump, who is [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu’s best friend.”

Biden has said that if elected, he would oppose Israel’s annexations in the West Bank, resume funding to humanitarian organizations working with Palestinians, and focus on a two-state solution. But resolving the intractable Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not going to be a priority for a president who has made it clear that he will be focused at first on fixing the U.S. economy in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Palestinians are aware that they are viewed by others as expendable, even by ostensible allies. Indeed, that has been clearer than ever after the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain signed a peace deal this year with Israel, with the Trump administration’s encouragement, in a bid to check Iran’s regional expansion. But years of victimhood make one attuned to degrees of exploitation. Whoever wins in the United States, Palestinians know they will lose—yet they insist any president would be better than Trump.

Anchal Vohra is a Beirut-based columnist for Foreign Policy and a freelance TV correspondent and commentator on the Middle East. Twitter: @anchalvohra

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