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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, in Jerusalem, on Feb. 18.Ronen Zvulun/Reuters

R. David Harden is the former assistant administrator at USAID’s bureau for democracy, conflict and humanitarian assistance; former USAID mission director to the West Bank and Gaza; and former senior adviser to president Barack Obama’s special envoy for Middle East peace.

Six months after the Hamas Oct. 7 terror attack, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has failed to achieve his goals in Gaza and is facing strategic defeat. U.S. President Joe Biden can save Israel from Mr. Netanyahu’s worst instincts.

Mr. Biden used his leverage to demand Israeli policy changes after last week’s World Central Kitchen attack. He urged Mr. Netanyahu to open more crossings, hold accountable those responsible for the attack, and negotiate a hostage release and ceasefire. Within hours, Mr. Netanyahu changed course, saying he would increase aid deliveries. Leverage works.

Mr. Biden may have learned by now that Mr. Netanyahu is, oddly enough, Israel’s Yasser Arafat. Mr. Arafat, the iconic politician who long served as the chairman of the Palestinian Liberation Organization and president of the Palestinian Authority (PA), failed his people by rejecting U.S. president Bill Clinton’s deal to establish a Palestinian state.

Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Arafat have striking commonalities: Mr. Netanyahu now, and Mr. Arafat before him, has evolved into a diminished leader, a caricature of a self-serving politician who chose political power over building a more secure and just future for his people. Mr. Arafat was infamous for conveying one message in English to international audiences and then speaking in Arabic to his domestic base with a very different tone and substance. Post-Oct. 7, Mr. Netanyahu regularly communicated one policy in English to the Washington establishment and another in Hebrew to right-wing Minister of National Security Itamar Ben-Gvir and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich.

Finally, Mr. Netanyahu, like Mr. Arafat in his last days, is besieged in a political storm of his own making. Both unleashed responses to injustice and grievances without a vision. Mr. Arafat ignited the Second Intifada. Six months into a war Israel never sought, Mr. Netanyahu, too, has failed his people. He did not destroy Hamas, bring home the remaining hostages or ensure that terror will never rise again in Gaza. Instead, Mr. Netanyahu will invade Rafah with no plan to manage Gaza’s humanitarian tragedy or to secure a constructive “day after” plan when the war ends.

The Palestinians could not be saved from Mr. Arafat. But to save the Israelis from Mr. Netanyahu, Mr. Biden must chart an alternative to Hamas for the benefit of both peoples. At this stage in the war, Mr. Biden can offer two actionable policies to build moderate political and economic power in Gaza.

First, reintroduce the PA to Gaza. The PA has no meaningful presence there. As a result, the PA has no agency, stake nor opportunity to assume governing and leadership responsibilities for its people in their most desperate time of need.

Change could begin at Kerem Shalom, the largest land crossing between Israel and Gaza. Based on my experience and recent conversations, a Bedouin family collects the cargo from the Israeli inspectors on the Palestinian side, transports it a few hundred metres and then transfers the cargo to truckers on behalf of the relief agencies. Introducing the PA to Gaza in an expanded sterile zone would give the PA control over a vital entryway. If Mr. Netanyahu objects, the Biden administration could sweeten the offer by enlisting Jordan, a trusted U.S. ally, to assist the PA. The PA should also control the proposed port and the Erez crossing, which is expected to open soon.

The U.S. demanded Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas appoint a new government. A PA presence in Gaza is a good test for Prime Minister Mohammad Mustafa to begin consolidating governance in Gaza. Second, the humanitarian community alone cannot blunt famine in Gaza. Their job is to aid the most vulnerable in Gaza, usually children and mothers at greatest risk of malnutrition. In concert with the PA, Gaza’s private sector is critical to restarting the food supply, serving markets and bakeries throughout Gaza. Trusted Gazan traders (already well-known to the Israelis), the PA and the Jordanians could use lines of credit to import food for last-mile distribution in Gaza, likely more effectively than the myriad of relief agencies.

Reintroducing the PA to Gaza and leveraging the Gazan private sector is critical to offering an alternative to Hamas. Mr. Netanyahu will resist, of course. That is why leverage and lessons are important. Mr. Netanyahu, Israel’s Arafat, is intent on continuing conflict to protect his political interests. Mr. Biden must help the Palestinian and Israeli peoples envision a sober and pragmatic path for Gaza, and not allow Mr. Netanyahu’s worst instincts of self-preservation, like Mr. Arafat’s before him, deny both peoples a livable future.

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