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SOBHANI: Roots of a statehood stalemate

Unholy alliance between Arafat and Khomeini has blocked progress

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When the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in 1979 planted a celebratory kiss on the lips of Yasser Arafat, leader of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), the act sealed the destiny of three peoples: Jews, Iranians and Palestinians.

For Iran's Jewish community, it meant the beginning of executions and the escape of thousands of Iranian Jews from their homeland. For Israel, it meant the start of a campaign of terror by the new clerical regime in Tehran, both directly and through its proxies such as Hezbollah and, later, Hamas. The irony is that Iran's secular rulers - from Cyrus the Great, who freed the Jews from their Babylonian captivity, to the late Shah of Iran, who believed firmly in a strategic relationship with the Jewish state - have always held a special regard for Jews and the nation of Israel. Sadly for the state of Israel, Khomeini's kiss turned out to be a kiss of death, literally, creating a campaign of terror against Jews inside and outside of Israel.

For the Iranian people, the kiss between an avowed terrorist and an anti-modern cleric sealed the fate of a nation whose history goes back 2,500 years. First, Khomeini used Arafat's thugs and terrorists to execute every remnant of the shah's regime, including its once-powerful army, weakening Iranian defenses to such a degree that in September 1980, Saddam Hussein boldly attacked Iran. Over the past 32 years, the people of Iran have been hostages to a clerical regime that pays more attention, both financially and otherwise, to the Palestinian cause than to its own talented and creative people. According to a recent article in the HarvardInternationalReview, if the anti-Western, anti-Israel revolution had not happened in Iran, this energy-rich country would be the world's fifth-largest economy and a member of the Group of Seven.

The Palestinian people were also victims of the kiss between Arafat and Khomeini. For the past 32 years, Palestinians have hitched their quest for statehood to a terrorist, Arafat, and then to his successors, who hijacked any legitimacy the Palestinian cause might have had. The alliance between the regime in Tehran and the PLO decoupled any and all moral authority for Palestinian leaders in their long quest for a state. It is notable that throughout the Arab world, Palestinians occupy positions worthy of any advanced nation. They serve as doctors, lawyers, engineers, teachers and scientists in their host countries. What a pity that this creative people has been robbed of its right to a homeland, not by Israeli occupation, but by its own leaders' mistakes, corruption and lack of vision.

The solution to a Palestinian state - one that has been supported by American Presidents Clinton, George W. Bush and Obama - must begin with decoupling Iran's theocratic regime from its proxies in Palestinian territories. Israel cannot live in peace next to a Palestinian state as long as the clerical regime pursues a nuclear weapons program, calls for the destruction of Israel, funds terrorist organizations such as Hamas and violates the basic freedoms of its own people on a daily basis.

The road map to a Palestinian state is simple. First, Washington must unequivocally support the aspirations of the Iranian people for a new beginning free of the clerics who have robbed them of life, liberty and economic prosperity. A democratic Iran at peace with Israel is a fundamental prerequisite for the creation of a Palestinian state. Second, a blueprint for rebuilding a new Palestinian state must be adopted. This can be done by the participation of Palestinian professionals from all subspecialties. For example, roads can be built, its water can be treated, tourism can be established and, finally, the Gaza Strip, which abuts the blue waters of the Mediterranean, can be turned into a Singapore or "Dubai by the Med." Third, a financial aid package from the rich Arab countries of the Persian Gulf is essential. This Marshall Plan for Palestine can be led by Saudi Arabia.

The strategic partnership that developed between the ayatollahs in Iran and Palestinian terrorists after the symbolic kiss between Khomeini and Arafat changed the landscape of the Middle East in our time. Today, the United States faces two options: Either we allow the status quo to continue and support the creation of a Palestinian state without any preconditions, thus jeopardizing the security of Israel, or we reach a grand bargain with all three peoples that would give Israel the security it requires. This grand bargain would involve offering moral support to the Iranian people, empowering them to remove the clerics who are choking opportunity for their own people and for the region. In the process, a two-state solution would be possible - the creation of a Palestinian state focused on good governance for its talented people and economic growth for its citizens.

S. Rob Sobhani is chairman of Caspian Group Holdings and author of "The Pragmatic Entente: Israeli-Iranian Relations" (Praeger Publishers, 1989).

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