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#USA2024The “Muslim factor”, the impact of the Israel-Hamas War...

The “Muslim factor”, the impact of the Israel-Hamas War on the US presidential elections

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The Israel-Hamas war represents a major quagmire for the Biden Administration, which is trying to balance the traditional American support for Israel with the necessity to maintain good relations with the Muslim world. The consequences of the conflicts are spreading far beyond the Middle East region, directly impacting the outcomes of the US presidential election.

The quicksand 

On 7th October 2023, the Palestinian group Hamas launched a full-scale military attack on southern Israel, taking by surprise the Israel Defence Forces (IDF). The operation resulted in the death of 1143 Israeli citizens and the launch of an Israel military invasion of the Gaza Strip, the Hamas stronghold. After the incursion, the United States declared its support for Israel, both on the diplomatic and military levels. On the one hand, Washington promptly condemned Hamas’ actions and voted against a UN General Assembly Resolution calling for a humanitarian truce and a ceasefire. Secondly, the United States deployed the Carrier Strike Group 12 to discourage other regional actors from joining the attack against Israel and provided military support for the IDF operation in Gaza. The Biden Administration has also provided lethal military aid to Israel bypassing  the Congress through an emergency determination. Unlike the Ukraine military aid, the details of the American weapons transfers towards Israel are relatively obscure.

The Israeli military operation resulted in the death of thousands of Palestinians, including women and children. The IDF’s massive bombing campaign resulted so far in 18.5 billion of damage and the destruction of nearly 50% of the buildings in the Gaza Strip. Due to the disproportionate amount of Palestinian civilian deaths, the United States’ support for Israel caused a massive international backlash. The so-called “Global South” has mostly condemned Hamas incursion, but it has sharply criticized the Israeli actions in the Gaza Strip, as well as the continuous occupation of Palestinian lands. The American credibility in this fundamental part of the world has been severely undermined. The Israel-Hamas War represented a spectacular setback for US President Joe Biden, who has been described as “isolated” on this issue, an adjective previously used to describe another chief of state, Russian President Vladimir Putin. Most countries belonging to the Global South have accused Washington of adopting a “double standard policy”, condemning Russian action in Ukraine, while remaining silent about Israel’s actions in Gaza.

The blowback 

The devastating consequences of the conflict have also affected the US domestic situation. Widespread protests have erupted across the United States, in particular in the large metro areas. The protests have resulted in the occupation of some Universities and violent clashes between pro-Palestinian and pro-Israeli protestors. This state of affairs could potentially influence the results of the next presidential elections. The outcomes of the United States presidential election are heavily influenced by a small number of “swing states”, which are crucial to creating a majority in the Electoral College. Michigan, with its 15 electors, represents one of the most important swing states in the US votes. The Great Lakes State is also marked by the highest concentration of Arab Americans and one of the highest of Muslims in the whole country and it hosts America’s biggest mosque, as well as the only American city with a Muslim majority population. Muslims and Arab Americans have historically voted for Democrats since 2004, despite its small size, the bloc’s high concentration in Michigan has made it pivotal to influence the outcome of the presidential election in the State. In 2020, Biden carried it by a margin of only 154.000 votes, a result to which Arab and Muslim voters highly contributed. After the outbreak of the Israel-Hamas War, these vote groups have sharply criticized Biden’s handling of the crisis, accusing him of complicity in the atrocities committed in Gaza. The Arab and Muslim American dissatisfaction has been shown by the huge number of uncommitted votes coming from them in the democratic primaries in the Great Lakes State. 

The possible balance tip

The US presidential elections of 2024 will represent a very close electoral competition. The former President Donald Trump is deeply unpopular and weakened by the opposition of a consistent wing of his own party, due to his role in the 2021 storming of Capitol Hill. At the same time, Joe Biden is equally unpopular among the American public. The American electors are deeply concerned about the age of the incumbent President, who is often regarded as too old for office and are clearly dissatisfied with his management of the economy and international crisis. Due to this state of affairs, these elections will probably be decided by a small margin of votes in the swing states. The influence of the Arab and Muslim communities in Michigan is now at its historical peak. However, the effective impact of the Arab and Muslim voters in the 2024 presidential elections will depend upon many other factors. First of all, even though the Arab and Muslim bloc is strongly committed to punishing Joe Biden for its support to the Israeli military campaign in Gaza, there’s a clear obstacle to this, the alternative. Donald Trump was the US President who moved the American Embassy to Jerusalem and recognized the Israeli annexation of the Golan Heights. At the same time, some members of these groups are not willing to give their preferences to Trump and will probably vote for a third-party candidate, or to abstain. Secondly, even though Arab and Muslim voters are highly concentrated in Michigan, their number is still low. Biden could easily offset the losses among Arab and Muslim voters by improving its performance among other demographic segments.

At the same time, the United States’ posture about the Israel-Hamas War has deeply changed. As the war went on, the Biden Administration repeatedly endorsed a ceasefire in Gaza, clearly ruling out a possible Israeli military offensive against Rafah city. So far, President Biden has reiterated his support for a “Two States Solution”, unlike his opponent. The United States is now pushing for the formation of a bilateral security agreement with Saudi Arabia which could potentially exclude Israel. This deal would represent a formidable leverage for the Israeli Government, in order to force it to end the military operation in Gaza and accept a roadmap for the formation of a Palestinian state in exchange for its entry into the agreement. A result of this magnitude would probably result in a huge shift in the Arab and Muslim American perception of Biden’s handling of the crisis. In conclusion, the Arab and Muslim community in Michigan could be the balance tip of the 2024 election, due to its high concentration in one of the most decisive swing states in the US, but its effective impact of the Arab and Muslim community on the election will be ultimately determined by several external factors. The ratio between the number of votes lost by Biden to Trump and the number of votes lost due to the abstention of third-party candidates, the incumbent President’s performances among other groups and finally, his ability to reach a deal which would end the Gaza War.

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