Rob Malley served the Clinton and Obama administrations on Middle East policy, including the Israel-Palestine peace process. He spoke on a J Street video yesterday about recent changes in U.S. public opinion on Israel, and made a confession.
We’re at the point of exhaustion, perhaps post exhaustion, with a process that has failed and a process that has ultimately served over many years now to perpetuate the status quo rather than to challenge it….
I hasten to add, we failed in trying to achieve progress and we could have a whole session on that, about why we failed and what we did wrong… We didn’t achieve what we were hoping to achieve. It’s not as if Israelis and Palestinians were closer to a two-state solution when we left office.
The problem was, Israel never got any punishment for continuing to take land and build settlements, Malley said.
The dilemma we faced, or the paradox or the failure we faced, is on the one hand we would keep saying that the situation was unsustainable, that Israel was pursuing policies at odds with what we considered its own interests if it wanted to continue as a democratic Jewish state. .. We would say, This is bad for Israel, and then we wouldn’t do anything to make them bear the consequence of its perpetuation of the status quo.
Which made me always think that the irrational thing for an Israeli leadership to do would be to change its behavior for which it wasn’t paying a price. If the incentive structure was the same [and if Israel paid no price in military/diplomatic support]… It would take an irrational decision on Israel’s part to change policies when its policies were not harming it. That’s the challenge…
Malley said it was only realistic for the U.S. to put “pressure” on both parties. Unless the U.S. has decided it doesnt want to do that to Israel.
You cant really reconcile a policy that claims to care with a policy that chooses to close its eyes.
Malley said he figures that a Biden administration will give low priority to the conflict but “at least try to come back at a minimum to a status quo ante… [and] try to undo as much of the damage that the Trump administration has done– as possible.” Like unrecognizing Israeli annexation, if it goes forward with Trump’s blessing.
As for the “inflection point” in public opinion, Malley noted the obvious fact that there has been “an accelerated change in the political landscape in the U.S.” in recent months led by Black Lives Matter and millennial Democrats, and this affects Israel policy.
There has been a questioning of the traditional US approach toward Israel, toward Israel Palestine, toward the Palestinians, among a larger swath of American young public opinion, particuarly among minority groups and particularly among Democrats.
A factor in the inflection is that not a single Palestinian under 50 still believes that the U.S. is an honest broker and there is going to be a two state solution in the forseeable future, he said.
This view is echoed by Beinart’s editor, Arielle Angel of Jewish Currents, who put the shift in generational terms in an interview with the JTA:
Peter is very adept at figuring out where the mainstream conversation is going, and also at figuring out who in the Jewish community he might be able to have the most interesting conversations with. I can’t speak for Peter, but I think there may have been a sense for him that the conversation he had been having was not as interesting anymore, and that in order to move into the future and actually move to where the conversation is going, he might have to start talking more to the next generation.
Yes, Beinart saw that the U.S. progressive discussion is now past two states, and he acted (on information that was there a long time ago).
Malley is being a bit thick about American policy. He knows that leaders have chosen a one-sided policy– because of Israel lobby groups like the one he was speaking to, which are opposed to reductions in U.S. aid to Israel.
And when I read Malley’s comments to our publisher Scott Roth, he said Malley was being too kind in suggesting Israel would respond “rationally” to U.S. pressure on Palestinian rights. “Israel has an issue with Palestinians that goes beyond rationality; oppression of Palestinians is part and parcel of the nature and character of the state of Israel. Israel can’t be Israel without oppressing the Palestinians, and no measure of poking and prodding will change that.”