I don’t know Robert Malley, though I did hear him speak once. It was at a panel at the New America Foundation, and he was making the argument that there really was an opportunity to move forward to a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict. This was late last fall, when Bush and Condi Rice were talking about finally breaking the logjam.
Now Malley has been sacked from some small advisory panel with the Obama campaign. Apparently his job with the International Crisis Group involved some contact with representatives of the dreaded Hamas, the fundamentalist group that won rather decisively the elections held in occupied Palestine over two years ago.
At this point one wonders whether the people who deny the dramatic influence of the Israel lobby on American politics feel a little bit silly. Malley’s position is that one might at least talk to Hamas. It’s not the majority position in Israel, but it’s not out of the ballpark either. It’s the view of former Israeli intelligence chief Efraim Halevy. It’s the position of Israeli Meretz party head Yossi Beilin. Who knows whether it’s correct. Hamas now claims formally that Israel has no legitimacy, which means there wouldn’t be much for Israel to talk about. But it also has sent out various feelers for a truce, and may well be in the process of climbing down from an untenable stance. People who know far more about the Mid East than I think negotiations with Hamas could be fruitful.
Anyway, Rob Malley’s positions were hardly so extreme that he couldn’t be a useful and valued member of Bill Clinton’s Mid-East staff. Is he really too much for Obama? Or are we simply seeing the first stage in the breaking of Barack Obama, that constant and unrelenting drumbeat of questions and smears and whispers about whether he is sufficiently pro-Israel, at the end of which he can maybe, just maybe, demonstrate himself to be just as accommodating to Israel as any Democratic nominee is supposed to be.
How accommodating is that? Clinton adviser Ann Lewis recently said that the role of the American president in essence, is to do whatever the Israeli leadership wants, so the bar is set pretty high.