Fifth Annual Conference

About the Conference

Political pundits have dubbed the 2020 elections as the most consequential in our lifetime, expecting the November 3rd presidential election to have a significant and lasting impact on US politics. Following four years of the White House’s isolationist policies and alliances with authoritarian rulers, the outcome of the 2020 presidential election is not only important domestically but also internationally, especially for US policy in the Middle East. Given the unprecedented challenges facing the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), compounded by the global coronavirus pandemic and economic recession, future US policy in the region is destined to play a vital role in the post-pandemic era. As such, Arab Center Washington DC is dedicating its fifth annual conference to analysis of the November 3rd US elections, particularly the presidential component. Conference sessions and speakers will explore the likelihood of Trump’s reelection and ensuing policy decisions regarding the Middle East, potential policy reversals by a Biden administration, key issues and strategic challenges confronting US policy in the Middle East, US interests in the region, and policy recommendations for the elected president.

Day 1 – Monday, September 21, 2020
Domestic Issues, Voters, and Key Constituencies on Middle East Policy

The first day of the conference is dedicated to the domestic context, assessing the principal domestic issues for voters that will impact the 2020 presidential election, the interpretation of polling numbers, and the views and influence of key constituencies related to US Middle East policy including Jewish Americans, evangelical Christians, Arab Americans, and Muslim Americans. Panelists will explore the domestic scene and the significance of US foreign policy in the Middle East and beyond as a factor in the election, the priorities for voter groups, as well as voting trends and how they might sway election results. The discussion will address the following questions:

  • Looking at the national polls, what are the expectations for the presidential election?
  • What do polls tell us about voter priorities?
  • Is the progressive wing of the Democratic Party likely to have an impact in this election cycle?
  • Is the Middle East an important factor in the 2020 election?
  • What role do evangelical Christians play? Do Middle East affairs represent a serious issue for the evangelical vote?
  • How critical is Middle East policy for Jewish Americans in the elections?
  • To what extent are Arab Americans politically involved? Could their vote have a meaningful impact on the US elections?
  • Where does the American Muslim community stand? Are there differences between the agendas of Arab and non-Arab Muslims in the United States?


9:30 AM Welcoming Remarks
  Khalil E. Jahshan
Executive Director, Arab Center Washington DC

9:40 AM Keynote Address
  The 2020 US Election: The Domestic Context – Issues and Voters
  Kyle Kondik
Managing editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball and Director of Communications at the University of Virginia Center for Politics

10:15 AM Voter Demographics and Political Issues in 2020 – The Middle East
  Jason Husser
Associate Professor of Political Science and Policy Studies and Director of the Elon Poll, Elon University
  Dalia Mogahed
Director of Research, Institute for Social Policy and Understanding
  Debra Shushan
Director of Government Affairs, J Street
  James J. Zogby
Founder and President, Arab American Institute
  George R. Salem Moderator
Member of the Board of Directors, Arab Center Washington DC
A highly regarded, well-respected legal expert on labor and Middle East issues

12:00 PM Adjournment of Day 1


Day 2 – Friday, September 25, 2020
Strategic Challenges to US Policy in the Arab World

The second day of the conference is devoted to US foreign policy in the Middle East, with a focus on key strategic challenges to US policy in the region and how the results of the 2020 election may shape policy toward the Middle East and North Africa. Panelists will examine the possible policy reversals by a Biden administration and the potential impact of a second term for the Trump Administration. In particular, they will explore the future of US involvement in Syria and US aid to the region; the wars in Syria, Libya, and Yemen and the political crises in Sudan and Iraq; responses to Russian and Iranian interference; confrontations with Iran and prospects for the Iran nuclear deal; tensions in the larger eastern Mediterranean area; relations with Saudi Arabia, the GCC crisis, and weapons sales to Gulf countries; and political repression and human rights violations. The discussion will consider the following questions:

  • What are the key strategic challenges that the newly elected president will face in 2021 in the MENA region?
  • In what ways will the 2020 election impact US global standing and influence?
  • How will the outcome of the presidential election affect US policy and involvement in the region?
  • Will a Biden administration reverse Trump’s policies toward Libya, Iraq, Syria, Iran, Yemen, and Russian interference in the region?
  • What is the likelihood of changes in US weapons sales and relations with Gulf countries?
  • Is a Biden administration expected to prioritize human rights and democracy in its MENA policy?
  • What are the views, strategies, and possible reactions from the region to the 2020 US presidential election and its outcome?
  • Is US disengagement from MENA a common plan on the agendas of both candidates?
  • How should the next president address challenges in the Middle East?


9:30 AM Welcoming Remarks
  Imad K. Harb
Director of Research and Analysis, Arab Center Washington DC

9:40 AM Keynote Address
  The 2020 US Elections: The Global Context – Strategic Challenges to US Policy
  Tamara Cofman Wittes
Senior Fellow, Center for Middle East Policy, The Brookings Institution

10:15 AM Strategic Challenges to US Policy in the Arab World
  Andrew J. Bacevich
President, The Quincy Institute
  Amaney Jamal
Edwards S. Sanford Professor of Politics, Princeton University
Director, Mamdouha S. Bobst Center for Peace and Justice
  Kristian Coates Ulrichsen
Non-resident Senior Fellow, Arab Center Washington DC
Baker Institute Fellow for the Middle East, Rice University
  Maha Yahya
Director, Carnegie Middle East Center
  Laurie Brand Moderator
Member of the Academic Advisory Board, Arab Center Washington DC
Robert Grandford Wright Professor of International Relations and Middle East Studies, University of Southern California

12:00 PM Adjournment of Day 2


Day 3 – Wednesday, September 30, 2020
The Arab-Israeli Conflict: Between Trump and Biden

The third day of the conference will focus on the Arab-Israeli conflict and Palestinian politics, particularly assessing US policy toward Palestine-Israel and the impact of the 2020 election on future policy decisions. Panelists will discuss the extent of the damage inflicted by the Trump Administration on the prospects for a just peace in the region, possible policy reversals by a Biden presidency, the changes in US public opinion toward Palestine-Israel, the future of US-Palestinian relations, and the likelihood for a quick return to serious negotiations between the parties. Panelists will address the two candidates’ similarities and differences regarding Israel policy, the growing influence of Bernie Sanders’s supporters in the Democratic Party, the trend of normalizing relations with Israel outside the framework of the Arab Peace Initiative, and the prospects for Palestinian statehood in the next four years. The discussion will explore answers to the following questions:

  • How will the outcome of the 2020 election impact US policy toward the Arab-Israeli conflict?
  • Is the damage to the search for peace between Israel and the Palestinians irreparable or can it be reversed? Will Biden attempt to reverse controversial policies and moves implemented by the Trump Administration?
  • What are the similarities and differences between Trump and Biden with regard to policy toward Israel and Palestine?
  • Is there a real change in the Democratic Party in relation to Palestine-Israel policy?
  • Is the public opinion of progressive and young Democrats likely to influence Biden’s approach?
  • Will Biden restore relations with the Palestinian leadership? Will he be able to deliver on his recent promises to reopen the US consulate in East Jerusalem, restore US aid to the Palestinians, and allow the return of the PLO mission to Washington, DC?
  • If elected president, is Biden willing and able to rein in Netanyahu—or his successor, should the Israeli prime minister be forced to resign in 2021?
  • How would a second term for Trump impact the conflict and Israel’s continued impunity and violations of Palestinian rights?
  • Will Biden return to the two-state solution, or will he propose a new vision for ending Israeli occupation and seeking equality for all citizens in Israel and Palestine?
  • What will be the effect of the normalization agreements between Israel and both the UAE and Bahrain? Will the two-state solution survive this new alliance or will the “land-for-peace” formula be replaced by Netanyahu’s “peace-for-peace” equation?


9:30 AM Welcoming Remarks
  Tamara Kharroub
Assistant Executive Director and Senior Fellow, Arab Center Washington DC

9:40 AM Keynote Address
  The Arab-Israeli Conflict in US Foreign Policy
  Shibley Telhami
Anwar Sadat Professor for Peace and Development, University of Maryland, College Park

10:15 AM The Arab-Israeli Conflict Between Trump and Biden
  Peter Beinart
American columnist, journalist, and political commentator
Professor of Journalism at the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism and Professor of Political Science, The City University of New York.
  Lara Friedman
President, Foundation for Middle East Peace
  Zaha Hassan
Human rights lawyer and Visiting Fellow, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
  Rashid Khalidi
Edward Said Professor of Modern Arab Studies, Columbia University;
Co-Editor, Journal of Palestine Studies;
President of the Institute for Palestine Studies-USA
  Yousef Munayyer Moderator
Non-resident Senior Fellow, Arab Center Washington DC

12:00 PM Adjournment of Day 3

If you are unable to register through zoom or for any registration related inquiries please write to In addition to Zoom, each day of the conference will be livestreamed on this page. You can send your questions to the speakers by writing to