JERUSALEM: Palestinian man reads the front page of Al-Quds newspaper, headlined in Arabic "Joe Biden the new US President", in front of the Dome of the Rock in the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound yesterday. - AFP

JERUSALEM: Joe Biden's US election win marks a setback for Israeli premier Benjamin Netanyahu, a staunch ally of President Donald Trump - but it could spur renewed engagement between Washington and the Palestinians, experts said. Netanyahu said Trump was Israel's strongest-ever ally in the White House, and the Republican advanced policies that delighted the Israeli prime minister's right-wing base.

Netanyahu congratulated Biden and vice president-elect Kamala Harris on Twitter yesterday, before thanking Trump for a raft of moves that, according to Netanyahu, advanced Israel's interests. Trump unilaterally pulled out of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal - an agreement between Tehran and world powers loathed by Netanyahu - and recognized Jerusalem as Israel's "undivided capital", moving the US embassy to the city, breaking international consensus.

He also endorsed Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights - which was seized from Syria - and avoided criticizing Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank. According to a pre-vote poll by the Israel Democracy Institute think-tank, 63 percent of Israelis wanted Trump to win a second term. Biden's ties with Israel run deep, and he has been a vocal supporter of the Jewish state for decades. He visited Israel in 1973, months after he was first elected to the Senate.

In a 2015 speech, while serving as Barack Obama's vice president, Biden said the United States was wedded to a "sacred promise to protect the homeland of the Jewish people". During the 2012 vice-presidential debate, when Biden was facing criticism over the Obama administration's treatment of Israel from Republican Paul Ryan, Biden asserted that he and Netanyahu had "been friends for 39 years". Netanyahu yesterday praised Biden as "a great friend of Israel" with whom he has had "a long and warm personal relationship".

Biden supported recognizing Jerusalem as Israel's capital two decades before Trump triggered global outcry by doing so. Biden backed a 1995 Senate bill to establish a US embassy in Jerusalem by 1999. Biden's 2020 campaign said he would not reverse Trump's embassy move, but would reopen a consulate in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem "to engage the Palestinians".

But Biden is expected to walk-back parts of Trump's record, notably by opposing Jewish settlement construction in the occupied West Bank, which the president-elect has described as an obstacle to peace. Biden also said he would restore "humanitarian aid for the Palestinian people," after Trump cut US support - more than $300 million annually - to the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA).

Israel's former envoy to Washington Michael Oren told AFP that tensions will spike if Biden seeks to revive the Iran nuclear deal, a prospect he said had a "very high" likelihood. The UAE, Bahrain and especially Saudi Arabia are bitter rivals of Iran. Experts have said that the normalization deals, as well as warming ties between Israel and Saudi Arabia under Trump, were partly driven by a desire to forge a united front against Iran.

Israeli officials are also concerned that Israel critics in the Democratic Party will influence Biden's administration. Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, tipped for a possible cabinet post, has called Netanyahu a "reactionary racist". Israel has meanwhile accused two Democratic congresswomen, Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar, of supporting the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel over its treatment of the Palestinians.

The Palestinian Authority cut ties with Trump's administration, accusing it of being flagrantly pro-Israel. In a statement congratulating Biden and Harris, Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas urged the incoming administration "to enhance the Palestinian-American relations". Abbas said he wanted to work with the new administration "to achieve freedom, independence, justice and dignity for (the Palestinian) people", indicating he will drop his three-year political boycott of the White House.

Abbas' boycott was popular among Palestinians, who celebrated Trump's defeat on Sunday on the streets. But, even as security contacts with Washington continued behind the scenes, the Palestinian leadership felt increasingly isolated, especially after Israel signed agreements with Gulf Arab states to normalize ties. In the days before the election Abbas's inner circle met to discuss whether they should resume political contacts with the White House if Biden won, a Palestinian official told Reuters.

Biden has said he would restore funding to the West Bank and Gaza that Trump had cut, including assistance delivered through the US Agency for International Development and UN agencies. He has also in the past opposed Israeli settlement construction in the occupied West Bank, and voiced support for a two-state solution to the conflict, a formula that would see a future state of Palestine co-existing alongside Israel.

"Trump's losing is a gain for us, for the Palestinian people, because he had sold out the Palestinian cause," said Anwar Abu Amira, 38, a refugee in Gaza's Beach Camp. "Since he took office until he lost, he has been trying to wipe out the Palestinian identity," Abu Amira said. Gaza political analyst Hani Habib said the Biden win would encourage Abbas to re-engage in negotiations with Israel, a move the international community has long called for. - Agencies