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Opinion | How to Be Pro-Palestinian, Pro-Israeli and Pro-Iranian

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Iran’s missile and drone attack on Israel over the weekend was a game-changing escalation that requires some game-changing rethinking on the part of Israel and its most important ally, the United States. I call it “the three-state solution.”

It begins with the recognition that there is probably zero hope for any resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or the Israel-Iran conflict without leadership change in Tehran, Jerusalem and Ramallah.

Starting with Tehran: I don’t favor any Western attempt to topple the Islamic Republic of Iran from outside, but I pray that one day the Iranian people will do so from inside.

“This region won’t see any meaningful peace or stability so long as this current government is in power in Tehran,” explained Karim Sadjadpour, an Iran expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “Because Iran’s vast resources and training are funding the 5 percent of fanatics who are making life hell for the 95 percent of Palestinians, Lebanese, Syrians, Yemenis and Iraqis who just want to live in peace. To paraphrase Shimon Peres about prospects for change in Iran, the good news is there is light at the end of that tunnel. The bad news is that today there is no tunnel.”

Given how many times Iranians have challenged their theocratic regime only to be crushed by its iron fist, it’s clear that there is a will. We just have to hope they find a way one day soon.

Because Iran and Israel once were natural allies — the two major non-Arab powers in the Middle East. That changed with the Islamic revolution in 1979. It put in place in Tehran a regime that prioritized spreading its Islamic ideology — and the destruction of the Jewish state of Israel — over the welfare of Iranians. If Iran were just a normal state prioritizing the advance of its own people over the destruction of another, it would be a huge change for the region.

It was good to see that the Tehran regime did not get much of a popularity boost in the region from firing over 300 drones and missiles at Israel on Saturday — almost all of which were intercepted or crashed before doing any damage. In fact, social media accounts in the Arab world have been rife with jokes ridiculing the Iranian regime for basically being 0-for-300, and suggesting that the only people who died did so from laughter.

When I say we need regime change in Ramallah, I am referring to the corrupt and inept Palestinian Authority, led by the 88-year-old Mahmoud Abbas. Why is the Palestinian Authority so important? Because it still embraces living in peace with Israel and the Oslo framework meant to lead to two states for two indigenous peoples. That is what makes a strong Palestinian Authority the keystone of any Israeli-Palestinian peace and of sustainable Arab-Israeli-Western alliance to deter or confront Iran.

So if you want to be pro-Palestinian today — as well as pro-Israel, pro-U.S.-Saudi-Israel agreement, pro-Abraham Accords, or anti-Iranian regime — the single most meaningful thing you can push for, demonstrate for or volunteer to contribute to is the transformation of the Palestinian Authority into a professionally led, noncorrupt, accountable-to-donors, effective governing institution.

That kind of Palestinian Authority can be a partner for a two-state solution with Israel and replace Israeli forces, along with friendly Arab armies, and govern Gaza in place of the pro-Iranian, Israel-hating Hamas — if it can be dismantled.

I give the Biden team generally high marks for the job that it has done responding to the hugely fraught and complex Gaza war — and, over the weekend, helping Israel deal with the Iranian missile attack. One key mistake it has made, though, was staying passive as President Abbas appointed a “new” government led by a longtime crony as prime minister, the businessman Muhammad Mustafa, in March. That was not the government of change that many Palestinians were hoping for, that the moderate Arabs were demanding and that the Palestinian people so badly needed.

As anyone who has reported from the West Bank knows, there is abundant leadership talent among Palestinians there, not to mention abroad — highly educated and able men and women. But too few have been tapped for the Palestinian Authority, which needs to have the best and the brightest of Palestinians at this key moment.

Countries like the United Arab Emirates are ready to come in and advise, train and fund a transforming Palestinian Authority, and even stand alongside it in Gaza with armed forces, but that is not going to happen until President Abbas retires. The authority needs a proven, noncorrupt institution builder in the mold of former Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, the best Palestinian leadership role model ever.

Which leads to why we need leadership change in Israel today, too. No one has done more to frustrate and prevent the emergence of an effective Palestinian Authority than Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who spent years making sure that Hamas had enough resources from Qatar to stay in power in Gaza, and prevent any unified Palestinian decision-making body — while, at the same time, denigrating the Palestinian Authority for every fault it had. Netanyahu never praised the authority for sticking to nonviolence (unlike Hamas) and for the way its security services helped Israel keep the West Bank from exploding despite the huge expansion of Israeli settlements. Netanyahu’s approach was shameful and, we now see, not in Israel’s interest.

A lot of Palestinians, and their supporters abroad, are saying today, “Well, if Israel says there is no difference between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas, maybe we should all just be with Hamas.” How is that in Israel’s interest?

Moreover, last October, Israel invaded Gaza under Netanyahu’s leadership with no exit strategy, no plan for the morning after and no Palestinian partner that can govern Gaza, along with friendly Arab armies, if Israel can bring down the Hamas government.

Netanyahu will not partner with the Palestinian Authority because he is on trial for corruption and needs to hold onto his office to plea bargain, in the event of any conviction. The only way he can do that is to rely on far-right Jewish supremacist/settler parties in his coalition, which refuse to see the Palestinian Authority become an effective governing body because that would mean it is a legitimate partner for a two-state solution that would force Israel to relinquish all or part of the West Bank.

This is not only incredibly dangerous for Israel in terms of the future of Gaza, but also — one can now clearly see — for the confrontation with Iran, which is going to a whole new level.

Israel, as was demonstrated over the weekend, could not have effectively dealt with Iran’s missile attack without a regional alliance — without tight coordination with Jordan and Arab Gulf states, which provided both early warning detection and, in the case of Jordan, actually shot down Iranian missiles and drones heading for Israel. Israel also relied on the help of the U.S., British and French Air Forces, and the U.S. Navy.

Attention, attention, attention: It is a complete fantasy to believe that the U.S., Jordan, and Israel’s Arab and NATO allies will be able to maintain a long confrontation with Iran — openly defending Israel — if Israel has a government determined to annex the West Bank and populate every sector there with settlements as well as remain in Gaza without any legitimate Palestinian partner.

Israel’s popularity has been eroding across the Western world since Oct. 7 — not to mention the Arab Muslim world. The support Israel garnered last weekend against Iran is not sustainable, unless Israel evinces a changed attitude toward the Palestinian Authority and plans a way out of Gaza.

But let’s fantasize in a different direction for a moment. Imagine if Israel tomorrow announced a freeze on new settlements, a willingness to transfer more governing and security responsibilities to the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and Gaza — as soon as it has built the capacity — and a willingness to invite in the U.S., the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia to help bring the Palestinian Authority up to that level and fund its institutions, what would immediately happen?

Both Iran and Hamas would be deflated — more than any Israeli missile strike could accomplish.

“Oh my God,” the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and Hamas would say, “that is a disaster. It means we cannot continue to easily delegitimize Israel in the West. It means conditions have been created for the U.S.-Israeli-Palestinian-Saudi security treaty. And it means the Arab governments will be able to much more comfortably and openly collaborate with Israel against Iran and its proxies. That is a disaster.”

It would also mean that Iran would no longer be able to pose as the great defender of the Palestinian cause — a pose that simply disguises its venomous desire to destroy the Jewish state and deflects attention from its crushing of its own people, particularly women and girls, and their democratic aspirations.

At the same time, in America and Western capitals, collaboration with Israel would no longer be so politically toxic. And in Moscow and Beijing, their collaboration with Iran would look as cynical as it is — pro-Hamas, not pro-Palestinian.

Yes, I can assure you: Nothing could be more to Israel’s strategic benefit.

But it cannot and will not happen as long as Netanyahu is in power.

We are in a chaotic moment in the Middle East right now. All I know for certain is that an effective, credible, legitimate Palestinian Authority is the keystone for every decent outcome — a sustainable two-state solution, a sustainable Arab-Israeli alliance against Iran, a sustainable U.S. and NATO Middle East policy to protect a democratic Israel from theocratic Tehran and a sustainable removal of the “Palestine card” from Iran’s hands.

But it will take leadership transformations in Tehran, Ramallah and Jerusalem (and not Washington) to happen.

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