A devilish problem – El Financiero

We have just witnessed in the last week scenes of police in New York storming a building at Columbia University occupied by students and off-campus activists protesting Israeli actions in Gaza and the US government's support for Israel, and immediately afterwards, counterprotesters attacking a pro-Palestinian encampment at the University of California, Los Angeles. The demonstrations – and the conflict in the Middle East that has caused them – stand as a problem with more edges than a tetrahedron for Joe Biden and his re-election campaign. I board four of them.

First, the protests and camps that have been set up in some universities (especially in Columbia, which have been going on for weeks) demanding a ceasefire in Gaza, pressure from Washington on the Israeli government and disinvestment in Israel, have amplified tensions within of the Democratic Party regarding the Biden administration's handling of the conflict in Gaza and its inherent, increasingly unsustainable contradictions. In the process, they have diverted media attention from the trial of Donald Trump that is being held on the other side of Manhattan. But deep down, they are the expression of an important change in perception and position in the last decade in the US, with respect to that country and Netanyahu's increasingly radical government. They certainly have not reached the scale of the major student protests of the late 1960s against the Vietnam War and do not even have the national reach or resonance that the Black Lives Matter movement achieved in 2020, in the run-up to the US presidential campaign. this year. But they are undoubtedly the largest student movement to date in the 21st century in the United States and remember the protests against eapartheid of the eighties. And they could represent a fundamental challenge for the mobilization and participation of the young vote – and the progressive vote – in favor of Biden. We already had a good example of this in the Democratic primary in Michigan in March, the state with the largest population of Arab and Palestinian origin in the United States, when more than 100,000 Democrats in the state resorted to a form of voting contemplated in the process. of that party's primaries voting as “not committed” as a sign of rejection and concern for Biden's policies in supporting Israel, especially as Netanyahu, as the months go by, has insisted on continuing with the use disproportionate use of force in Gaza. And it's not that these young people or the progressive wing of the party are going to vote for Trump, who would adopt even more pro-Netanyahu positions; The danger is that they will not go out to vote in an election that will be close.

Second, the potential political consequences of the demonstrations could generate a 'Chicago effect' for Biden. In 1968, the protests against the war in Vietnam and the riots that devastated that city, site that year of the Democratic National Convention, helped a few months later to pave the way for Richard Nixon's victory over Vice President Hubert Humphrey – a Democratic candidate weak, with a divided party – resorting to a discourse of order and legality in the race for the White House. This year, the convention that will formally declare Biden as a candidate will be held, as then, in Chicago. There is already evidence that many students and pro-Palestinian groups – with the additional danger of infiltration and manipulation – are preparing demonstrations for the convention in August, which could not only undermine the central objective of showing the party's unity, but also dynamite the narrative that Trump is an agent of chaos and polarization.

Third, the excesses committed by protesters – enrolled students and outside actors – on university campuses could help those who always promise to “restore order.” Without the slightest scruples – and in a gross and astonishing inconsistency with respect to how they have positioned themselves before those who stormed Congress in January 2021 or the actions of their de facto presidential candidate, which are anything but “order” and “ legality” – a week ago a presenter in Fox News He stated that the images coming from the universities were like those of a “third world” country, while right-wing commentators criticized Democratic politicians for propagating an environment “woke up” that has fueled the protests and Biden, for not quelling them. The Republican Party is united in its support for Israel and has also long targeted universities as bastions of “leftist ideology,” trying to portray them as incubators of radicalism on issues of race and gender, and hostile environments for anyone who does not. adhere to those ideologies. Neither slow nor lazy, Trump joined the political pandering of the demonstrations, praising the actions of the law enforcement agencies in New York: “It was something beautiful to see,” he stated. For this reason, Biden came out on Thursday to emphasize that “there is a right to protest. But there is no right to cause chaos.” Order “must prevail,” he said, calling on university presidents to “immediately remove the encampments, marginalize the radicals, and take back our campuses.”

And fourth, behind these aspects of internal politics, the specter arises that the US presidential election – conditioned until now by the behavior of the economy and inflation and the perceptions of the electorate regarding these – could be decided by issues of foreign policy and perceptions on international issues. Right now, all eyes in Washington are on Cairo and Riyadh to see whether the ongoing negotiation to reach a ceasefire in Gaza and the release of hostages held by Hamas is going ahead or not. The White House's bet is not minor. At stake is not only the de-escalation of the conflict; Biden, his Cabinet and his campaign team see a potential ceasefire agreement as the necessary first step in a chain of potentially virtuous actions and reactions that, at best, could remake geopolitics in the Middle East and help win re-election, and preserving along the way – at a time when the president seeks to rebuild the coalition that gave him victory in 2020 – the support of pro-Israel voters, and largely deflating and neutralizing protests in universities or , at least, containing the discontent of young people ahead of the polls in November. But at its core lies a diplomatic calculation that is not in the hands of Washington. It depends first on Saudi Arabia and whether or not it grants Biden an electoral candy (in exchange for a security guarantee agreement) by going ahead and formalizing the normalization of diplomatic relations with Israel (one of the central reasons why Hamas attacked Israel on October 7 in order to torpedo that agreement), or if it holds out to see who wins the US election. It seems that Riyadh has already decided to go ahead with normalization and that the only question is when to do it. And second, it is also in the hands of Israel, with Netanyahu's decision to proceed with an invasion of the Rafah area of ​​Gaza. Doing so will fuel student demonstrations, deepening Biden's internal vulnerability and deepening bilateral and personal tension with his Israeli counterpart, an amalgamation of factors that Republicans are eager to exploit electorally. The fact that it is also plausible that these two governments prefer to see Trump than Biden in power, and that these four edges that I have described here intersect and intertwine, makes this equation a political, diplomatic and strategic calculation with enormous consequences. for the president, for the United States and for the future of relations with this region of the world.