Skip to main content

Palestinians Are Hoping for Anyone but Trump

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

Vohra-Anchal-foreign-policy-columnist18
Vohra-Anchal-foreign-policy-columnist18
Anchal Vohra
By , a Brussels-based columnist for Foreign Policy who writes about Europe, the Middle East and South Asia.
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.
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.”

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.

 Twitter: @anchalvohra

More from Foreign Policy

A view of the Russian Central Bank headquarters in downtown Moscow on May 26.
A view of the Russian Central Bank headquarters in downtown Moscow on May 26.

Actually, the Russian Economy Is Imploding

Nine myths about the effects of sanctions and business retreats, debunked.

Taliban fighters wait as people gather for a ceremony to raise the Taliban flag in Kabul.
Taliban fighters wait as people gather for a ceremony to raise the Taliban flag in Kabul.

The Taliban Detained Me for Doing My Job. I Can Never Go Back.

FP’s columnist on a harrowing return to Kabul, almost one year after the United States left Afghanistan.

A man walks past a closed store of the Japanese clothing brand Uniqlo in Moscow on June 8.
A man walks past a closed store of the Japanese clothing brand Uniqlo in Moscow on June 8.

Russian Sanctions Are Working but Slowly

Moscow’s military capabilities are being ground down, piece by piece.

Men stand atop a wooden platform over a muddy river holding a long pole down into the water.
Men stand atop a wooden platform over a muddy river holding a long pole down into the water.

Ghana’s ‘Success’ Exposes the West’s Toxic Development Model

Standard theories of global progress continue to be largely limited to raw extraction.

Expand your perspective with unlimited access to FP.

Subscribe Now

Loading graphics

Welcome to a world of insight.

Explore the benefits of your FP subscription.

Stay updated on the topics you care about with email alerts. Sign up below.

Choose a few newsletters that interest you.

Here are some we think you might like.

  • Morning Brief thumbnail
  • Africa Brief thumbnail
  • Latin America Brief thumbnail
  • China Brief thumbnail
  • South Asia Brief thumbnail
  • Situation Report thumbnail

Analyze the world’s biggest events.

Join in-depth conversations and interact with foreign-policy experts.

FP Live: Reporters’ Notebooks

Register now

Want the inside scoop on Russian arms sales to Africa? Care to learn more about how Ukraine is arming itself and how Beijing views Washington’s support for Taiwan? FP subscribers are alrea...Show more

FP Live: The Future of Afghanistan

Register now

Last summer, the United States decided to end its longest war. But just days after the U.S. military withdrew from Afghanistan, Kabul fell—and the Taliban took control of the country. Aug....Show more

FP Live: Nobel Laureate Maria Ressa on the Future of Press Freedom

In less than two years, Maria Ressa has received 10 arrest warrants from the government of former President Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines, and her media company, Rappler, has been order...Show more