For too long, a two-state solution has been a panacea for peace in the Middle East. But it will never come about until diplomats and politicians address the real reason why the region remains in chaos: the destabilizing role Iran and its proxies play.
As the Israel-Hamas war enters its fourth month, the more clear it is that the brutality of the Oct. 7 attacks was itself a strategy. Iran trained and funded Hamas with the mission to refocus global attention on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The barbaric pogrom, which Hamas fighters documented with GoPro cameras, was designed not only to terrorize Israelis, but to trigger a devastating Israeli invasion against Hamas in Gaza, replete with civilian casualties.
Then could the images of Palestinian victims rouse the “Arab Street” and estrange rulers of the Sunni states in the Levant and Gulf from the emerging security structure that would be led by the U.S. and include Israel.
It’s no coincidence that Iran-backed Houthi rebels from Yemen tried to attack shipping vessels in the Red Sea before the U.S. military put down the assault.
It’s time for the world to confront what — and who — is behind this crisis. Leadership from the United States must take four immediate steps to counter the growing unity of Iran’s allies before it is too late to find any solution.
First, build a coalition of Western and Arab partners to support using economic and military pressure against Iran and its proxies with a zero-tolerance level for their attacks.
Second, American foreign policy must express unequivocal opposition to Islamist extremism in all its forms and highlight the leadership of Islamist Ra’am Party Chairman MK Mansour Abbas, who calls on armed Palestinian factions to demilitarize and establish a Palestinian state through non-violent means.
Third, form an international coalition to rebuild Gaza and invest in the West Bank that includes Egypt, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Morocco, Bahrain and Jordan. This group would provide aid and security to civilians, build infrastructure, develop the economy and create a global front against Iranian subversion, thus substantiating a brighter vision for Palestinians.
Fourth, initiate a diplomatic campaign to expand the Comprehensive Security Integration and Prosperity Agreement with Bahrain to encourage other members of the coalition to participate in rebuilding Gaza. This agreement enhances deterrence by formalizing U.S. Central Command integration of the region’s air and missile defense systems, facilitating intelligence sharing increasing maritime security awareness, and expediting trade with the U.S.
These U.S. leadership actions would protect the emerging security architecture of the Middle East and deploying coalition personnel and resources to Gaza and the West Bank would demonstrate to the Arab world that Palestinians are being offered a pathway to an independent and dignified future.
Many, including the Biden administration, have proffered a revamped Palestinian Authority (PA) as the best option to lead Palestinians into the future. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has rejected this option — at least for now.
But even our own government understands why putting the current Palestinian Authority back in charge is risky. Congress, in passing the Taylor Force Act, found that the PA rewards terror through their “Pay for Slay” Ministries, and even compensates the Hamas killers, pursuant to law.
This doesn’t mean the two-state solution is impossible, but it does demand a realistic assessment of its current viability given Iranian opposition to a moderate Palestinian leadership that could actually make peace. The first step towards a revamped PA must be the elimination of “Pay for Slay” replaced by a Palestinian welfare system based on economic factors, not rewards for terrorist acts against Israel.
Keeping Arab public opinion inflamed against Israel and the U.S. is a strategic asset that Iran cannot squander. Iran needs the Gaza war conflict to persist, no matter the cost.
The only hope for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict lies through building a coalition to neutralize Iran and its dedicated obstruction of a two-state solution. Especially now, as Iran progresses towards a nuclear capability, the urgency for the U.S. to act builds by the hour.
Sander Gerber and Robert Wexler are members of the U.S. State Department’s Middle East Partnership for Peace Act (MEPPA) advisory board. Wexler is president of the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace and was a Democratic member of Congress from Florida (1997-2010). Gerber is a former vice chairman of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.
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