What Do We Talk About?

Ken Silverstein kindly mentions my book over at Harper’s in the course of disagreeing with me about the merits of U.S. diplomatic outreach to Hamas in the absence of Israeli willingness to talk with the Hamas leadership. He writes:

Why would the United States government allow Israel to determine to whom it talks? The only way to reach a political settlement in the Middle East is for an American president to pressure Israel to make concessions. It’s hard to exert much pressure if our government allows Israel to determine who speaks for the Palestinians.

I don’t think our substantive positions are very far apart here. It seems to me that Israel needs to try to talk with the Hamas leadership (the idea that this would give them “credibility,” much-mooted in the hawkish press, strikes me as bizarre — as if the Arab public finds people more credible the more closely associated with Israel they are) and that the U.S. government ought to pressure Israel to do so. But it’s a little hard for me to see what we could talk to Hamas about in the absence of Israeli participation — the U.S. can and should play a constructive role in trying to resolve the conflict, but talks on the Israeli-Arab conflict need Israeli participation.

A later Silverstein post notes that Israel and Hamas are almost certainly already talking through backchannels. Which is good. The United States can and should participate in whatever’s happening in that regard and try to lay the groundwork (including by pressuring Israel insofar as that’s necessary) for all the stakeholders to start meeting against and talking resolution.