As its title suggests, this book's leitmotif is that peacemaking can succeed only if based on international law, and that Israel is responsible for the failure of the 2000 Camp David negotiations between itself and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) because its positions were inconsistent with international law. The justification presented by Helmick (a Jesuit priest, who makes no claim to a legal education) for his theory is both legally and logically flawed.

He argues repeatedly that U.N. Security Council resolution 242 requires complete Israeli withdrawal to the 1949 armistice line, even though this resolution only requires withdrawal from occupied territories (but not all the territories), a wording long recognized as not requiring full Israeli withdrawal. This phrasing requires only that the two parties negotiate the location of a "secure and recognized" boundary, not necessarily the armistice line. In fact, the author himself, disregarding his main argument, proposes territorial changes in Israel's favor in the boundary in the Jerusalem area.

Helmick also preaches the idea that, to be consistent with international law, any final Israeli-Palestinian agreement must include an Israeli commitment to permit the Palestinian refugees to relocate to Israel in accordance with U.N. General Assembly resolution 194, while expressing the hope that this step will not lead to the destruction of Israel, because perhaps not all 3.5 million Palestinians that call themselves refugees will choose to immigrate to Israel. In making this argument, the author ignores the small fact that resolution 194 is not part of international law, that the two parties specifically based the Oslo agreements on U.N. Security Council resolution 242 (and its companion resolution 338) but not on resolution 194 (or any other General Assembly resolutions), and that the relocation of Palestinians to Israel is wholly inconsistent with the Oslo agreements that were intended to create two states, one Jewish and one Palestinian, rather than two Palestinian states.

Negotiating Outside the Law is replete with embarrassing factual errors and bizarre assertions. Helmick calls the Palestinian intifada "a campaign of nonviolence," and claims that Abu Nidal was an Israeli Mossad agent. He ludicrously asserts that prior to the Madrid conference, Secretary of State James Baker obtained a written commitment from Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir to allow the PLO to have a recognized headquarters in Jerusalem. Hezbollah attacks on Israel, he suggests, were merely reprisals for Israeli attacks on their villages, and Helmick indicates that the notorious Hamas terrorist, Yahya Ayyash (the "engineer"), who orchestrated suicide bombings that caused the deaths of more than seventy Israeli civilians, restrained Hamas from suicide attacks. With that kind of twisted logic, no wonder that Helmick's only other publication, an article summarizing his book,[1] was published in Counterpunch, an Internet magazine edited by Alexander Cockburn, who also published articles claiming that Jews spread anthrax and that the Israeli Mossad bombed the World Trade Center on 9-11.

Other than its flamboyant mistakes, Negotiating Outside the Law is supremely dull, consisting of a summary of the main peace process-related events that occurred from the mid-1980s through the post-Camp David conference, based almost exclusively on New York Times articles. Intertwined with this potted history are the full texts of long letters the author wrote during those years—primarily to his Palestinian correspondents—advising them on how to negotiate more effectively with Israel. His advice was not limited to the verbal; Helmick, who falsely claims the title of mediator, urged his Palestinian friends to open an intifada against Israel in early 2000.

[1] Raymond G. Helmick, S.J., "Coercive Agreements and the Disparity of Power," Counterpunch, Dec. 18-19, 2004.