How To Deal with Bibi: Ignore Him

US Middle East policy has always assumed that peace will come through direct talks between the parties. That assumption is no longer tenable.

The good folks at J Street are assembling a petition to support Obama: Freeze Means Freeze. They’re a good group, and they should be supported. Go to it!

I think, however, that there is a better way for Obama to deal with Netanyahu: Ignore Him.

What if Obama sat down with the two Abdullahs and worked out an outline of an actual final settlement, probably something like the People’s Voice Accord (also known as the Nusseibeh-Ayalon Agreement)?

The two Abdullahs would then tell Abbas to take it, with a promise that the US would accept it if he did.

Then, they could all present it as a Security Council resolution, as well as proposing that the Israeli and Palestinian electorates vote on it, as Nusseibeh has advocated.

What would Netanyahu do then?

He could hardly claim that the Palestinians or the Arab world has rejected Israel as a Jewish state, because the agreement accepts it.

He would go to the fake “pro-Israel” forces in DC, who might dutifully accuse Obama of selling out, but that would not get much purchase, for the same reasons mentioned above. Besides, even Paul Wolfowitz has spoken out in favor of the People’s Voice.

He could argue that the Obama-Abdullahs deal violates Israeli sovereignty, but since the package involves voting on it, that would not be very credible, either.

American diplomacy has relied for decades on the assumption that Israeli-Palestinian peace must result from direct talks. This assumption has not been unreasonable, but it is outdated. Israel insisted on direct talks because it wanted to make sure that it was not undermined at an international conference, and that the Arabs would deal directly with it.

But that no longer really holds true, because the Arabs are dealing directly with it, and it doesn’t need the US to undermine it at an international conference because the current government is going such a good job of it itself.

Of course, there are a whole of assumptions behind this scenario, most importantly, that the Abdullahs would have the courage to make the kinds of concessions that the Palestinians must make, in exchange for the United States making the kinds of concessions the Israelis must make. And of course it assumes that the Obama Administration would do the same for its part. And that Abbas would go along.

All questionable. But if they aren’t true, or even close to true, then it’s not just Netanyahu’s fault.

In any event, it is worth a try. There are always reasons for why some approach to Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking will fail. And they have all been right. But that does not justify throwing up your hands.

We might just call this Middle Eastern strategy The Indirect Approach.

Author: Jonathan Zasloff

Jonathan Zasloff teaches Torts, Land Use, Environmental Law, Comparative Urban Planning Law, Legal History, and Public Policy Clinic - Land Use, the Environment and Local Government. He grew up and still lives in the San Fernando Valley, about which he remains immensely proud (to the mystification of his friends and colleagues). After graduating from Yale Law School, and while clerking for a federal appeals court judge in Boston, he decided to return to Los Angeles shortly after the January 1994 Northridge earthquake, reasoning that he would gladly risk tremors in order to avoid the average New England wind chill temperature of negative 55 degrees. Professor Zasloff has a keen interest in world politics; he holds a PhD in the history of American foreign policy from Harvard and an M.Phil. in International Relations from Cambridge University. Much of his recent work concerns the influence of lawyers and legalism in US external relations, and has published articles on these subjects in the New York University Law Review and the Yale Law Journal. More generally, his recent interests focus on the response of public institutions to social problems, and the role of ideology in framing policy responses. Professor Zasloff has long been active in state and local politics and policy. He recently co-authored an article discussing the relationship of Proposition 13 (California's landmark tax limitation initiative) and school finance reform, and served for several years as a senior policy advisor to the Speaker of California Assembly. His practice background reflects these interests: for two years, he represented welfare recipients attempting to obtain child care benefits and microbusinesses in low income areas. He then practiced for two more years at one of Los Angeles' leading public interest environmental and land use firms, challenging poorly planned development and working to expand the network of the city's urban park system. He currently serves as a member of the boards of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy (a state agency charged with purchasing and protecting open space), the Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice (the leading legal service firm for low-income clients in east Los Angeles), and Friends of Israel's Environment. Professor Zasloff's other major activity consists in explaining the Triangle Offense to his very patient wife, Kathy.