Recent news reports identifying Robert Malley as one of Barack Obama’s foreign policy advisers took the Monitor back a few years, to the summer of 2001 when the previously obscure Malley was suddenly popping up all over the place, castigating Israel for the collapse of the Camp David talks in 2000.
In early July of that year, The New York Times ran an op-ed piece by Malley, who had served as a special assistant for Arab-Israeli affairs to President Clinton, that took issue with those who presumed to blame Yasir Arafat for the failure of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations at Camp David and, later, Taba. (One of those blaming Arafat happened to be Malley’s own former boss, Bill Clinton.)
The following month, the liberal-left New York Review of Books featured a lengthy essay on the same theme by Malley and Palestinian academic/activist Hussein Agha.
(In a prime example of left-wing networking, London’s virulently anti-Israel Guardian carried a brief adaptation of the Malley-Agha essay, and Americans for Peace Now immediately gave it prominent placement on its website.)
Jumping aboard the Malley Express that summer was Deborah Sontag, who’d already demonstrated time and again throughout her regrettable stint as New York Times Jerusalem bureau chief that she was nothing if not an absolute sieve through which flowed any pro-Palestinian argument or viewpoint.
In an extraordinarily long July 26 article (which began on the Times’s front page and sprawled across two inside pages) Sontag, basing much of her account on Malley’s assertions, attempted to refute the (in her words) “simplistic narrative” that Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak’s generous offers at Camp David had been rewarded with Palestinian intransigence and hostility.
(That the Times chose to devote the sheer amount of space it did to Sontag’s seemingly endless editorializing disguised as reportage should have been enough to silence the few who still harbored doubts about the newspaper’s political agenda.)
Reaction to the Sontag piece was quick in coming, starting with the obligatory letters to the editor from pro-Palestinian Arabs, pro-Israel Jews, and self-hating Israelis and Jews (an over-used term to be sure, but how else to describe individuals who argue their enemies’ case better and with more passion than the enemies themselves?).
Detailed criticism of Sontag’s article also appeared on the Web and in various magazines and newspapers. One of the best was a withering analysis in The New Republic by Robert Satloff who opened on a sardonic note:
“Imagine The New York Times covering the sinking of the Titanic with only a passing reference to the iceberg. Absurd? Not really. On July 26 the nation’s newspaper of record devoted 5,681 words to a retrospective by Jerusalem bureau chief Deborah Sontag titled ‘Quest for Mideast Peace: How and Why It Failed’ and mentioned the word ‘intifada’ just once.”
In Sontag’s view, wrote Satloff, “the failure of the peace process was due to bad chemistry (Barak chatting up Chelsea Clinton instead of Arafat at Camp David) and bad timing (Bill Clinton waiting too long to offer his own peace plan). In her telling, the Palestinian uprising is just part of the background landscape. But it is not just part of the background landscape. The uprising so transformed the Israeli-Palestinian political context that by the time the two sides were, in Sontag’s telling, agonizingly close, it no longer mattered …. But to discuss the intifada, its roots, and its impact would complicate Sontag’s tale of imminent peace gone awry, so she sets it aside…”
Satloff characterized Sontag’s article as the product of “lazy reporting, errors of omission, questionable shading, and an indifference to the basic fact that the Palestinian decision to wed diplomacy with violence, not American and Israeli miscues, damned the search for peace.”
This was hardly a surprise to regular readers of Sontag’s tendentious dispatches, just as it was no shock when the Israel-based journalist Judy Lash Balint reported earlier that year that at a special taping of Ted Koppel’s “Nightline” in Jerusalem, “several smartly dressed, attractive, young English-speaking Arabs made sure they saved a chair for New York Times bureau chief Deborah Sontag. When Sontag arrived, she was greeted with kisses by one of the young women in the group.”
Sontag’s massive piece of Malley-fueled revisionism was essentially her swan song as the Times’s Jerusalem bureau chief. She’s been writing for The New York Times Magazine since her return to the U.S. For his part, Malley has continued writing opinion pieces from a decidedly pro-Palestinian perspective and now, apparently, has the ear of the Democratic Party’s front-running presidential hopeful.