Robert Malley

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Robert Malley
Special Assistant for Arab-Israeli Affairs, "point man" on the Middle East
President Bill Clinton, Barack Obama
Personal details
Born 1963
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Caroline Brown
Children 3
Alma mater Yale University
Oxford University
Harvard Law School
Profession diplomat, political scientist, advisor to US President
Website ICG Middle East and North Africa Program

Robert Malley (born 1963) is an American lawyer, political scientist and specialist in conflict resolution. He is currently the President and CEO at the International Crisis Group in Washington, DC[1]. Prior to holding that title, he served at the National Security Council under Barack Obama from February 2014 until January 2017. Prior to holding that title, he was Program Director for Middle East and North Africa at the International Crisis Group and Assistant to National Security Advisor Sandy Berger (1996–1998) and the Director for Democracy, Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs at the National Security Council (1994–1996).[2] Malley is considered an expert on the Israeli–Palestinian conflict and has written extensively on this subject.[2] As Special Assistant to President Clinton, he was a member of the U.S. peace team and helped organize the 2000 Camp David Summit.[3] In 2015, the Obama administration appointed Rob Malley as its "point man" on the Middle East, leading the Middle East desk of the National Security Council.[4] In November 2015, Malley was named as President Obama's new special ISIS advisor.[5]

Early life[edit]

Robert Malley was born in 1963 to Barbara (née Silverstein) Malley, a New Yorker who worked for the United Nations delegation of the Algerian National Liberation Front (FNL), and her husband, Simon Malley (1923–2006), an Egyptian-born Jewish journalist who grew up in Egypt and worked as a foreign correspondent for Al Gomhuria. The elder Malley spent time in New York, writing about international affairs, particularly about nationalist, anti-imperial movements in Africa, and made a key contribution by putting the FNL on the world map.[6]

In 1969, the elder Malley moved his family—including son Robert—to France, where he founded the magazine Africasia (later known as Afrique Asia).

The Malleys remained in France until 1980, when then French president Valéry Giscard d'Estaing briefly expelled Simon Malley from the country to New York.[6]

Robert Malley attended Yale University, and was a 1984 Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University, where he earned a Ph.D. in political philosophy. There he wrote his doctoral thesis about Third-worldism and its decline. Malley continued writing about foreign policy, including extended commentary about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He earned a J.D. at Harvard Law School, where he met his future wife, Caroline Brown.[7] Another fellow law school student was Barack Obama.[8] In 1991–1992, Malley clerked for Supreme Court Justice Byron White, while Brown clerked for Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. As of 2010, the couple has two sons, Miles and Blaise, and one daughter, Frances.[7]


After his Supreme Court clerkship, Malley became a Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations where he published The Call From Algeria: Third Worldism, Revolution, and the Turn to Islam—a book that charts Algeria's political evolution from the turn of the 20th century to the present, exploring the historical and intellectual underpinnings of the crisis in Algeria. His book received critical acclaim, and Malley was described as "exceptionally well read, creative in seeing connections and influences, and gifted with a graceful, if world-weary writing style."[9]

Malley served in the Clinton administration as Director for Democracy, Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs at the National Security Council from 1994–1996. In that post he helped coordinate refugee policy, efforts to promote democracy and human rights abroad and U.S. policy toward Cuba.[7] From 1996–1998 he was Executive Assistant to National Security Advisor Sandy Berger. In October 1998, Malley was appointed Special Assistant to President Clinton for Arab-Israeli Affairs, a post he held until the end of the administration in 2001.[7]

After his service with the administration, Malley became Senior Policy Advisor for the Center for Middle East Peace and Economic Development in Washington, D.C. He later became Program Director for Middle East and North Africa at the International Crisis Group in Washington, D.C., directing analysts based in Amman, Cairo, Beirut, Tel Aviv and Baghdad. Malley's team covers events from Iran to Morocco, with a heavy focus on the Arab–Israeli conflict, the situation in Iraq, and Islamist movements throughout the region. Malley also covers developments in the United States that affect policy toward the Middle East.[2]

According to Barack Obama's 2008 presidential campaign, Malley provided informal advice to the campaign in the past without having any formal role in the campaign.[10] On May 9, 2008, the campaign severed ties with Malley when the British Times reported that Malley had been in discussions with the militant Palestinian group Hamas, listed by the U.S. State Department as a terrorist organization.[10] In response, Malley told The Times he had been in regular contact with Hamas officials as part of his work with the International Crisis Group. "My job with the International Crisis Group is to meet with all sorts of savory and unsavory people and report on what they say. I've never denied whom I meet with; that's what I do", Malley told NBC News, adding that he informs the State Department about his meetings beforehand and briefs them afterward.[11] Malley has published many articles in which he calls upon the Israelis (and the international community) to bring Hamas to the negotiating table in order to secure an Israeli–Palestinian ceasefire and insure that any agreement reached with Palestinians will be respected by the Islamist movements in Palestinian society too (see the section Views).

The New York Times reported on 18 February 2014 that Malley was joining the Obama administration to consult on Persian Gulf policy as senior director of the National Security Council.[12] On 6 March, the National Security Council announced that Malley would be replacing Philip Gordon as the Special Assistant to the President and White House Coordinator for the Middle East, North Africa and the Gulf Region, effective on 6 April 2015.[13] On November 30, 2015, it was reported that Malley would become the National Security Council's "ISIS Czar [5] The subject was the lead US negotiator in the 2015 Iran nuclear deal and defended the agreement against a pullout by the Trump administration.[14]

After Obama left office, Malley returned to the International Crisis Group, serving as the new Vice President for Policy. He is currently the President and CEO.[1]


Robert Malley has published several articles on the failed 2000 Camp David Summit in which he participated as a member of the U.S. negotiating team. Malley rejects the mainstream opinion that lays all the blame for the failure of the summit on Arafat and the Palestinian delegation. In his analysis, the main reasons were the tactics of then-Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak and the substance of his proposal which made it impossible for Arafat to accept Barak's offer.[3]

Malley argues that negotiations with the Palestinians today must include Hamas because the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) is no longer considered the Palestinian people's sole legitimate representative.[15] He describes the PLO as antiquated, worn out, barely functioning, and, because it does not include the broad Islamist current principally represented by Hamas, of questionable authority. Malley favors negotiating with Hamas at least for the purpose of a ceasefire—citing Hamas officials in Gaza who made clear they were prepared for such an agreement with Israel.[16]

He supports efforts to reach an Israel-Hamas ceasefire which would include an immediate end to Palestinian rocket launches and sniper fire and a freeze on Israeli military attacks on Gaza. Malley's arguments rest on both humanitarian and practical reasons. Malley points to the blockade imposed by Israel on the Gaza Strip has not stopped Hamas's rocket attacks on nearby Israeli towns and notes that the siege has caused millions of Gazans to suffer from lack of medicine, fuel, electricity and other essential commodities, so cease-fire would avoid "enormous loss of life, a generation of radicalized and embittered Gazans, and another bankrupt peace process."[16]

In addition, Malley calls for Israel, the Palestinians, Lebanon, Syria and other Arab countries to resume negotiations on all tracks based on the Arab Peace Initiative, which promises full Arab recognition and normalization of relations with Israel in the context of a comprehensive peace agreement in exchange for a withdrawal of Israeli forces from the occupied territories to the 1967 borders, the recognition of an independent Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital, and a "just solution" for Palestinian refugees.[15]

"Today, Malley still stands out for his calls to engage in negotiations with Syria and Iran and for finding 'some kind of accommodation' with Hamas", The Jewish Daily Forward reported in February 2008.[8]

Criticism from Israel supporters[edit]

Malley was criticized by supporters of Israel after co-authoring an article in the July 8, 2001 edition of The New York Review of Books arguing that the blame for the failure of the 2000 Camp David Summit should be divided among all three leaders who were present at the summit, Arafat, Barak, and Bill Clinton, not just Arafat, as was suggested by some mainstream policy analysts.[17] "Later, however, other scholars and former officials voiced similar views to those of Malley", according to a February 20, 2008 article in The Jewish Daily Forward.[8]

Malley and his views have come under attack from other critics, such as Martin Peretz of the magazine The New Republic, who has opined that Malley is "anti-Israel", a "rabid hater of Israel. No question about it", and that several of his articles in the New York Review of Books were "deceitful."[18] On the conservative webzine The American Thinker, Ed Lasky asserted that Malley "represents the next generation of anti-Israel activism."[8]

Malley told the Jewish Daily Forward that "it tends to cross the line when it becomes as personal and as un-based in facts as some of these have been." While he loved and respected his father, he said, their views sometimes differed, and it is "an odd guilt by association" fallacy to criticize him based on his father's views.[8] Simon Malley was called a sympathizer of the PLO by Daniel Pipes.[19]

In response to what they called "vicious, personal attacks" on Malley, five Jewish, former U.S. government officials—former National Security Advisor Sandy Berger, Ambassador Martin Indyk, Ambassador Daniel C. Kurtzer, Ambassador Dennis Ross, and former State Department Senior Advisor Aaron David Miller—published a letter (dated February 12, 2008) in the New York Review of Books defending Malley.[8] They wrote that the attacks on Malley were "unfair, inappropriate, and wrong", and objected to what they called an attempt "to undermine the credibility of a talented public servant who has worked tirelessly over the years to promote Arab–Israeli peace and US national interests."[20] This view is also shared by M.J. Rosenberg, Director of Policy for Israel Policy Forum and a former editor at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, who condemned the attacks on Malley, writing that Malley is "pro-Israel" and the only reason he is being criticized is because he supports Israeli–Palestinian negotiations.[21]

Published books[edit]

  • The Call from Algeria: Third Worldism, Revolution, and the Turn to Islam, Berkeley: University of California Press (1996), ISBN 978-0-520-20301-3

Selected published articles[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Robert Malley". Crisis Group. 2017-04-14. Retrieved 2018-01-07. 
  2. ^ a b c "Robert Malley biography page". International Crisis Group. Archived from the original on 2008-04-10. Retrieved 2008-04-21. 
  3. ^ a b Malley, Robert; Hussein Agha. On March 6th, 2015, the White House announced that he would become the Special Assistant to the President and White House Coordinator for the Middle East, North Africa and the Gulf Region, replacing Phil Gordon. (2001-08-09). "Camp David: The Tragedy of Errors". New York Review of Books. Retrieved 2008-04-21. 
  4. ^ White House names Israel critic to top Mideast post BY JTA, March 8, 2015, 3:13 pm 36
  5. ^ a b
  6. ^ a b Brittain, Victoria (September 27, 2006). "Obituary: Simon Malley". Guardian. London. Retrieved 2008-04-21. 
  7. ^ a b c d "President Names Statement by the Press Secretary on Robert Malley Appointment" (Press release). Archived from the original on September 12, 2004. Retrieved 2008-04-21. 
  8. ^ a b c d e f Guttman, Nathan (February 20, 2006). "Peace Negotiator Who Advised Obama Campaign Strikes Back at Critics". Jewish Daily Forward. Retrieved 2008-05-10. 
  9. ^ "The Call From Algeria". University of California Press. November 1996. Retrieved 2008-04-21. 
  10. ^ a b Baldwin, Tom (May 10, 2008). "Barack Obama sacks adviser over talks with Hamas". The Times. London. Retrieved 2008-05-10. 
  11. ^ "Informal Obama Adviser Steps Aside Over Hamas Talks". First Read blog at MSNBC website, report by Andrea Mitchell. May 9, 2008. Archived from the original on May 10, 2008. Retrieved 2008-05-10. 
  12. ^ "Ex-Clinton aide returns to White House with Persian Gulf brief". Haaretz. 19 February 2014. Retrieved 18 February 2014. 
  13. ^ Statement by NSC Spokesperson Bernadette Meehan on the Special Assistant to the President and White House Coordinator for the Middle East, North Africa and the Gulf Region,
  14. ^ PBS Newshour. (26 July 2017). "Trump signals he might pull out of the Iran nuclear deal. What’s at stake?" PBS website Retrieved 26 July 2017.
  15. ^ a b Malley, Robert; Hussein Agha (2007-05-10). "The Road to Mecca". New York Review of Books. Retrieved 2008-04-21. 
  16. ^ a b Malley, Robert (2008-01-21). "The Gaza Time Bomb". International Herald Tribune. Retrieved 2008-04-21. 
  17. ^ Malley, Robert (July 8, 2001). "Fictions About the Failure At Camp David". New York Times. 
  18. ^ Peretz, Martin (2008-01-31). "Can Friends of Israel — and Jews — Trust Obama? In a word, yes". The New Republic. Retrieved 2008-05-10. 
  19. ^ Pipes, Daniel, The Long Shadow: Culture and Politics in the Middle East Transaction Publishers: 1989. ISBN 0-88738-849-3, p 137, as presented in a Google Books search. Retrieved on January 27, 2008
  20. ^ Letters to the NYRB: In Defense of Robert Malley New York Review of Books, March 20, 2008 p. 53
  21. ^ Rosenberg, Michael (2008-02-18). "Smearing Rob Malley". The Huffington Post. Retrieved 2008-04-25. 

External links[edit]