The White House named Robert Malley, a U.S. negotiator at the 2000 Camp David talks, to lead the Middle East desk at the National Security Council.
Malley, whose appointment was announced on Friday afternoon, since last year has handled the Iraq-Iran-Syria-Gulf States desk. In replacing 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.
He also assumes a more senior title, moving from senior director to special assistant. Malley 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.
Malley drew some pro-Israel criticism for his published assessment in 2001 of the 2000 Camp David talks, in which he said that the prevailing narrative, that the Palestinians were at fault for their collapse, was a misapprehension and ignored Palestinian concessions and Israeli failures at the talks.
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.
At least two pro-Israel groups expressed concerns about the appointment over the weekend. 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 US should not and will not do anything to undermine Israel’s safety or the special relationship between our two nations.”