Time to Start Talking

The U.S.'s policy in the Middle East is flawed. Here's how to fix it

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So is there any way out of the crisis? If the U.S. hopes to find one, it will have to help put a comprehensive package on the table, and some of its broad outlines can be divined. On the Israeli-Palestinian side, it would include a reciprocal and verifiable cease-fire, a prisoner swap and Israel's allowing the Hamas government to govern. The Lebanese equation is more complex. Here too a prisoner exchange and cease-fire agreement will be necessary, but a broader deal, involving steps toward Hizballah's disarmament and Israel's withdrawal from the contested Shabaa farms, will probably be required. On the latter issues at least, it is hard to imagine much happening without addressing Syrian concerns; for more sustainable stability, Iran will have to be included as well.

But then, such an approach would entail negotiating with all the wrong people about all the wrong things. That, of course, is precisely what the U.S. is adamant it will not do. One does not talk to outlaw actors, let alone bargain with them. The result has been a policy with all the appeal of a moral principle and all the effectiveness of a tired harangue.

> Robert Malley is Middle East program director at the International Crisis Group. From 1998 to 2001 he was President Clinton's special assistant for Arab-Israeli affairs

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