WASHINGTON (JTA) — The appointment of Robert Malley, a U.S. negotiator at the 2000 Camp David talks, to lead the Middle East desk at the National Security Council has drawn concerns from at least two pro-Israel groups.
Malley, whose appointment by the White House was announced on Friday, succeeds Philip Gordon, who has been Middle East coordinator since 2013. He assumes responsibility for Israel and the Palestinians, as well as North Africa and the Persian Gulf.
Since last year, Malley has handled the Iraq-Iran-Syria-Gulf States desk. He already deals with Israel, and has attended meetings on the Iran-nuclear issue between his boss, National Security Adviser Susan Rice, and her Israeli counterpart, Yossi Cohen.
Some pro-Israel groups criticized Malley for his 2001 published assessment of the Camp David talks in which he said that the prevailing narrative — that the Palestinians were at fault for the collapse of the talks — was a misapprehension and ignored Palestinian concessions and Israeli failures.
As the director of the Middle East Program at the International Crisis Group, a think tank, he also met multiple times with Hamas officials and said parties to the peace process must at some stage engage with the terrorist group, which controls the Gaza Strip.
Over the weekend, at least two pro-Israel groups expressed concerns about the appointment. One official told JTA that White House officials last year assured pro-Israel groups after Malley’s hiring that he would not deal with Israel and the Palestinians.
In 2008, Malley came under attack because he met with Hamas officials while informally advising then-Sen. Barack Obama’s presidential campaign.
At the time, five once and future U.S. Middle East negotiators, some with pro-Israel ties out of government and all Jewish, decried the attacks as “vicious.” They said that while they had differences with Malley, they had “no doubt” he shares the view that “the U.S. should not and will not do anything to undermine Israel’s safety or the special relationship between our two nations.”
In his new role, Malley assumes a more senior title, moving from senior director to special assistant.