One of Barack Obama’s Middle East policy advisers disclosed yesterday that he had held meetings with the militant Palestinian group Hamas – prompting the likely Democratic nominee to sever all links with him.
Robert Malley told The Times that he had been in regular contact with Hamas, which controls Gaza and is listed by the US State Department as a terrorist organisation. Such talks, he stressed, were related to his work for a conflict resolution think-tank and had no connection with his position on Mr Obama’s Middle East advisory council.
“I’ve never hidden the fact that in my job with the International Crisis Group I meet all kinds of people,” he added.
Ben LaBolt, a spokesman for Mr Obama, responded swiftly: “Rob Malley has, like hundreds of other experts, provided informal advice to the campaign in the past. He has no formal role in the campaign and he will not play any role in the future.” The rapid departure of Mr Malley followed 48 hours of heated clashes between John McCain, the Republican nominee-elect, and Mr Obama over Middle East policy.
Because, of course, the last thing you’d want in an advisor on the Israel/Palestine issue is someone with contacts with the legitimate, democratically elected government of Palestine. That’s just crazy. What’s so frustrating about this is that it comes in sharp contrast to one of Obama’s bravest moments – his promise to meet, unconditionally, with Hugo Chavez, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Kim Jong-Il, and Fidel Castro, not because he agrees with them, but because having diplomatic relations with countries that frustrate us is more productive than antagonizing them. This move dashes, to a certain degree, my hopes that he would extend this to include meeting with Khalid Mesaal and Ismail Haniyeh. Yes, they’re terrorists, yes, they’re anti-Semitic, and no, their ideal world does not include a Jewish state of any kind. But they are the democratically elected government of Palestine, they do control Gaza, and any kind of peace settlement must give them a seat at the table alongside Fatah and the Israeli government. Any agreement that excludes them is bound to be seen as illegitimate, and rightly so.