In the ongoing debate regarding Barack Obama’s stance on Israel, Obama foreign policy adviser Robert Malley has emerged as a divisive figure.
Malley’s supporters and critics agree that he embraces a pro-Palestinian narrative in his approach towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As President Bill Clinton’s special adviser on Arab-Israeli affairs from 1998-2001, Malley was the only American official to blame the United States and Israel—rather than Yasser Arafat—for the failure to achieve Israeli-Palestinian peace at Camp David in 2000. Since leaving government, Malley has further developed his pro-Palestinian credentials: he has gushed over Arafat; partnered with Arafat adviser Hussein Agha in promoting his revisionist account of Camp David; and blamed the Bush administration overwhelmingly for continued Israeli-Palestinian strife.
Given Malley’s unabashed bias, supporters of Israel have questioned his true motives, with Martin Peretz’s determination that Malley is a “rabid hater of Israel” representative of the debate’s deteriorating tenor. Last week, Malley’s fellow peace processors shot back, calling the attacks “an effort to undermine the credibility of a talented public servant who has worked tirelessly over the years to promote Arab-Israeli peace and US national interests.” Malley’s former colleagues further wrote that he neither harbors an anti-Israel agenda nor has sought to undermine Israeli security.
Yet the very question of whether or not Malley is a “anti-Israel” is a red herring. Rather than psychoanalyzing Malley to uncover his true motivations, we should assess Malley’s policy prescriptions as to whether they have advanced Israeli-Palestinian peace—the cause for which Malley was employed. It is within this framework that Malley’s insufficiency as a presidential foreign policy adviser is most profoundly exposed.
Consider, for example, Malley’s address at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy in September 2005. While debating U.S. policy towards Islamist parties, Malley argued that the U.S. should allow Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to permit Hamas’ participation in the upcoming parliamentary elections. Malley said:
[Abbas] thinks that it’s the only way that he can restore political stability; that he can regenerate his own political party; and that he can sustain the ceasefire. . . . We should not be second-guessing that assessment.
Of course, Malley’s policy of not “second-guessing” Abbas on Hamas was an unambiguous disaster, with Hamas’ subsequent election dashing all hopes that the post-Arafat era could yield peaceful compromise.
Or, consider Malley’s analysis of last February’s Mecca Agreement, which heralded a four-month period of Hamas-Fatah “national unity” governance. In a May article, Malley welcomed the agreement as a “first step” towards clarifying Palestinian politics, and assessed that “an immediate wholesale breakdown of relations between the two groups” was unlikely. Of course, such a breakdown occurred barely a month after Malley’s piece went to print, with Hamas violently seizing Gaza.
The gist of it is that Malley has a clear record of advocating policies in the Palestinian sphere that undermine U.S. interests almost instantaneously. Indeed, it hardly matters whether Malley is motivated by anti-Israel bias. After all, we have far more damning reasons to doubt his calls for engaging Iran and Syria: namely, that his analytical framework is consistently proven wrong.