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This combination of photos from Sept. 29, 2020, show then-President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden debating in Cleveland. The pair will meet again June 27 during the first presidential debate of 2024. (AP) This combination of photos from Sept. 29, 2020, show then-President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden debating in Cleveland. The pair will meet again June 27 during the first presidential debate of 2024. (AP)

This combination of photos from Sept. 29, 2020, show then-President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden debating in Cleveland. The pair will meet again June 27 during the first presidential debate of 2024. (AP)

Samantha Putterman
By Samantha Putterman June 25, 2024
Maria Ramirez Uribe
By Maria Ramirez Uribe June 25, 2024

For decades, American politicians of both parties have tended to coalesce around support for Israel.

That support has shifted as Israel wages its war in Gaza following Hamas’ Oct. 7, 2023, attack that left more than 1,000 Israelis dead and several hundred taken hostage. The United Nations estimates more than 35,000 people — including many women and children — have been killed in Gaza during Israel’s monthslong response, sparking protests in the U.S. and in other countries against Israeli tactics.

Biden expressed strong support for Israel from the outset. But, facing widespread criticism, he has tried to push Israel’s government to limit Palestinian casualties in Gaza and to allow more humanitarian aid to enter the region.

How does Biden’s position compare with his 2024 presidential opponent, former President Donald Trump?

Most of Trump's comments about Israel focus on needing to finish the job because it was "losing" the public relations war.

"(Trump) hasn't expressed, as far as I know, any concerns about the humanitarian crisis in Gaza," said Dov Waxman, director of the Nazarian Center for Israeli Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles. "And I don't think if he were to be president again, he would pressure the Israeli government to minimize Palestinian civilian casualties or to allow more humanitarian aid in."

Foreign policy experts said both Biden and Trump want to see a state for Israel and a peaceful solution to avoid a wider war. But the candidates have shown stark differences on what should happen. 

What are Trump and Biden’s positions on the overall Israeli-Palestinian conflict?

Trump has unwaveringly supported Israel and its government. When in office, he went further than other presidents by moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem and endorsing the Golan Heights, land Israel seized from Syria, as Israeli territory.

Experts in U.S. policy in the Middle East said Trump showed strong support for Israel like presidents past, but still departed from the norm during his term.

"Not rhetorically, but in terms of really sidelining the Palestinians," said Nadav Shelef, a political science and Israeli studies professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. "Trump took a pro- Israeli, right-wing position that effectively gave Israel everything it wanted without giving anything to the Palestinians."

Excluding the Palestinians, Shelef said, "tilted the bargaining much more heavily toward Israel."

In 2018, Trump kept his campaign promise and moved the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv, officially recognizing the city as Israel's capital. The move, which sparked criticism, broke with decades of U.S. policy that held that Israel’s capital would be officially determined once a final peace agreement was made. Palestinians believe that parts of Jerusalem are their capital.

Trump’s Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and then-U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman stand next to the dedication plaque at the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem in March 2019. (AP)

Shelef noted that Congress in 1995 passed the Jerusalem Embassy Act, which called for the embassy’s move to Jerusalem. Other administrations reserved the right to delay deciding until they felt the move wouldn’t hamper peace talks. Biden hasn’t reversed the move, but Shelef said it’s likely Biden couldn’t even if he wanted to.

"Biden can't unilaterally say, ‘Sorry Congress,’" Shelef said. "But I think this just falls into Trump effectively giving away American leverage without getting anything in return." 

Trump, in 2019, also broke with decades of U.S. policy, most U.S. allies and the United Nations when he endorsed permanent Israeli control of the Golan Heights, a plateau Israel seized from Syria during the 1967 Middle East war. Trump said the land is "of critical strategic and security importance" to Israel.

In September 2020, the Trump administration brokered the Abraham Accords — an agreement formalizing and normalizing Israel’s diplomatic relations with a few Arab countries. 

Trump has since said he "made peace in the Middle East with the accords. We rated that False. The accords bypassed several conflicts — including the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Trump did not achieve peace across the entire region.

Biden has been more in line with the historically bipartisan U.S. position on Israel, seeking to maintain relationships with both the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority.

Biden has remained closer to the U.S.’ historic foreign policy position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, experts said.

U.S. foreign policy has generally supported having relationships with both Israel and the Palestinian Authority, the governing body over parts of the Israeli-occupied West Bank. The U.S., under Biden, has tried to establish itself as a "quote, unquote honest broker in trying to resolve the conflict," Waxman said. 

Although vocally pro-Israel, the Biden administration has still sought to restrain Israel, Waxman said. Biden’s State Department restored a U.S. policy calling settlements in the West Bank  — one of the two Palestinian territories — illegitimate and it restored relations with the Palestinian Authority that the Trump administration had severed.

But Biden hasn’t rolled back all of Trump’s policies. In 2021, Biden announced plans to open a Palestinian consulate in Jerusalem, spurring objections from Israel. The project hasn’t moved forward.

His administration also hasn’t rescinded Trump’s endorsement that Golan Heights is sovereign Israeli territory. 

Waxman said Trump and Biden have similar goals when it comes to normalizing diplomatic relations between Israel and countries in the region, particularly Saudi Arabia

What have Trump and Biden said on the war in Gaza?

Trump has supported  Israel unconditionally and says he wants it to get the war "over with," without mentioning a cease-fire or Palestinian casualties.

Trump’s limited comments about the Israel-Gaza war have offered near-absolute support for Israel.

Trump recently said Israel needs to wrap up the fighting because it was "losing the PR war." He hasn’t mentioned or condemned the Palestinian casualties, and hasn’t called for a cease-fire.

In April, conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt asked Trump whether he was still "100% with Israel" and how he’d advise Netanyahu.

"You’ve got to get it over with, and you have to get back to normalcy," Trump said. 

"And I’m not sure that I’m loving the way they’re doing it, because you’ve got to have victory. You have to have a victory, and it’s taking a long time." Trump said that Israel must "finish what they started, and they’ve got to finish it fast, and we have to get on with life."

Palestinians look for survivors following an Israeli airstrike in Nusseirat refugee camp in the Gaza Strip on Oct. 31, 2023. (AP)

Biden has become increasingly critical of Palestinian casualties and has called for a cease-fire.

In the hours after the Oct. 7 attack, Biden said that the U.S. "stands with the people of Israel in the face of these terrorist assaults" and called his administration’s support "rock-solid and unwavering."

"Israel has the right to defend itself and its people. Full stop," Biden said.

In an Oct. 16 interview on CBS’ "60 Minutes," Biden said Hamas needed to be eliminated but that an Israeli occupation of Gaza would be a "big mistake" and that there needs to be a path to a Palestinian state.

Eight months later, Biden, like Trump, wants the war to end, but he has specifically called for a cease-fire and for more aid to be allowed into Gaza.

Biden has sought to pressure Netanyahu in public remarks and briefly withheld certain weapons to reduce the chances they would be used to attack densely populated areas. (Netanyahu is slated to address Congress on July 24 at the invitation of House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La.) Trump falsely said in May that Biden wanted to stop "all aid" to Israel.

Biden’s administration temporarily suspended the shipment of about 3,500 bombs to Israel when it threatened to launch a full-scale attack on Rafah, a city in southern Gaza. But Biden clarified that he wasn’t cutting Israel from all U.S. aid, and he signed legislation in April that provides billions of dollars to the country, on top of the billions the U.S. already provides annually.

In a March MSNBC interview, Biden said an Israeli invasion of Rafah would be a "red line, but I’m never going to leave Israel." In May, National Security Communications Advisor John Kirby, a U.S. official, said an Israeli strike of Rafah did not cross the red line.  

Israeli soldiers walk past houses destroyed by Hamas militants in Kibbutz Be'eri, Israel, Saturday, Oct. 14, 2023. (AP)
What have Trump and Biden said about a two-state solution?

Trump has been more dismissive of a two-state solution since Oct. 7.

Trump hasn't discounted the idea of a Palestinian state but has been more negative about the possibility since the Oct. 7 attacks. In an April interview with Time magazine, Trump acknowledged that a peaceful two-state solution seemed unlikely. 

"There was a time when I thought two-state could work," Trump said. "Now I think two-state is going to be very, very tough."

Presidents from both parties have historically supported "a two-state solution as an end goal, even if it couldn't be implemented immediately," Shelef said.

But the differences lie in "what they imagined a two-state solution would look like," Waxman said.

In 2020, Trump presented a two-state solution plan that would have limited the sovereign powers of a Palestinian state and allowed Israel to control security over the Palestinian state, which would be demilitarized. Israel would also have sovereignty over certain parts of the occupied West Bank. 

Biden believes in Palestinian statehood.

Biden has continued his yearslong approach of giving Israel strong support, while insisting that Palestinians deserve inclusion and assistance, presenting the U.S. as an arbitrator. He affirmed his support for a two-state solution in his March 7 State of the Union address.

"As we look to the future, the only real solution is a two-state solution. I say this as a lifelong supporter of Israel and the only American president to visit Israel in wartime," Biden said. "There is no other path that guarantees Israel’s security and democracy. There is no other path that guarantees Palestinians can live with peace and dignity."

However, the administration hasn’t proposed a two-state-solution plan, leaving experts to guess about the specifics. Waxman said Biden’s plan would likely differ from Trump’s by encompassing more of the West Bank as part of a Palestinian state, for example. 

Shelef said Biden’s administration is likely in agreement with Trump that a two-state solution would be difficult or "impossible to implement immediately."

What have Trump and Biden said about Israeli settlements in the West Bank, Gaza?

A housing project under construction is seen in the West Bank Israeli settlement of Maale Adumim in June 2023. (AP)

Trump tried to legitimize Israeli settlements when he was president and didn’t try to stop settlers from building them.

In 2019, Trump’s Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Israeli settlements in the West Bank did not violate international law. 

This position reversed U.S. policy. Until then, both Democratic and Republican administrations had considered the settlements to be illegitimate and an impediment to peace talks.

Israel captured the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza in the 1967 Six-Day War, along with additional territory from Egypt and Syria. Israel later annexed East Jerusalem and withdrew troops and settlers from Gaza, and it has continued to expand settlement projects in the West Bank. There are an estimated 700,000 Israeli settlers in the region.

The Trump administration was essentially adopting Israel's interpretation of international law, Shelef said.

Trump and Pompeo’s argument is in the minority among international law scholars, Shelef said. 

"I don’t think it’s a strong one," he said. "But lawyers can make all sorts of arguments and this is currently being adjudicated in the International Court of Justice." Israel is not a member of the ICJ and would not be affected by that court’s ruling.

Biden’s administration has opposed Israel’s settlement plans and reversed Trump’s policy.

Biden’s administration has occasionally criticized Israel’s settlement plans in the West Bank. In October 2021, after Israel announced plans to expand settlements in the area, the State Department criticized the move.

"We strongly oppose the expansion of settlements, which is completely inconsistent with efforts to lower tensions and to ensure calm, and it damages the prospects for a two-state solution," then-department spokesperson Ned Price said. "We have been consistent, as I said, and clear in our statements to this effect."

However, other than issuing general warnings, Biden typically avoids criticizing Israel in public.

The administration’s strongest rebuke came in February, when Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the U.S. was returning to its long-standing policy that Israeli settlements in Palestinian territories are illegitimate, following another announcement that Israel would build thousands of new homes in the West Bank.

The administration didn’t cast Blinken’s comments as a reversal because they said Pompeo’s 2019 declaration was never formally issued, and thus not legally binding, even though it was widely accepted as U.S. policy then.

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Our Sources

The White House, Remarks by President Biden on the Terrorist Attacks In Israel, Oct. 7, 2023

The White House,  Remarks of President Joe Biden — State of the Union Address As Prepared for Delivery, March 7, 2024

The White House, Remarks by President Biden on the Middle East, May 31, 2024

The Hill, Trump to Netanyahu on war in Gaza: ‘You’ve got to get it over with … get back to normalcy’, April 4, 2024

The Los Angeles Times, Biden vs. Trump: Where they stand on Israel, Palestinians, Middle East, June 12, 2024 

Vox, What Trump really thinks about the war in Gaza, June 1, 2024 

Time Magazine, How far Trump would go, April 30, 2024, Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995

PolitiFact, Is Donald Trump correct about the history of the Jerusalem Embassy Act? Dec. 6, 2017

PolitiFact, Trump moves embassy to Jerusalem, May 14, 2018

PolitiFact, Trump said Biden wants to ‘immediately stop all aid to Israel.’ That’s not what Biden said, May 15, 2024 

The Washington Post, Trump endorses Israeli control of the disputed Golan Heights, March 21, 2019

The Associated Press, Israel signs pacts with 2 Arab states: A ‘new’ Mideast?, Sept. 15, 2020

Roll Call, White House confirms Biden will keep embassy in Jerusalem, Feb. 9, 2021, Biden administration restores U.S. policy calling Israeli settlements ‘illegitimate’ under international law, Feb. 23, 2024

Politico, U.S. to reopen Jerusalem consulate, upgrading Palestinian ties, May 21, 2021

X, U.S. State Dept - Near Eastern Affairs post, June 25, 2021

The New York Times, In Shift, U.S. Says Israeli Settlements in West Bank Do Not Violate International Law, Nov. 18, 2019

CBS News, President Joe Biden: The 2023 60 Minutes interview transcript, Oct. 15, 2023

BBC, Trump releases long-awaited Middle-East peace plan, Jan. 28, 2020

Trump White House archives, "Peace to Prosperity", January 2020

CNN, ‘Our people are here to stay’: World Court hears arguments over Israeli occupation of Palestinian-claimed land, Feb. 19, 2024 

The U.S. State Department, Press briefing, Jan. 18, 2023

The U.S. State Department, statement to PolitiFact, May 31 and June 10, 2024

Email interview, Elizabeth Shakman Hurd, Crown Chair in Middle East Studies & Professor of Political Science at Northwestern University, June 20, 2024

Phone interview, Nadav Shelef, political science and Israeli studies professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, June 21, 2024

Phone interview, Dov Waxman, director of the Nazarian Center for Israeli Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles, June 20, 2024

Phone interview, Boaz Atzili Associate, professor of the Department of Foreign Policy and Global Security School of International Service at American University, June 20, 2024

Email statement, Karoline Leavitt, Trump campaign national press secretary, June 24, 2024

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