Sent to you by Sean McBride via Google Reader: Obama’s Mideast Team –
Who’s In, Who’s Not In (Yet), Who’s Probably Out via The Magnes Zionist
by [EMAIL PROTECTED] (Jerry Haber) on 11/11/08
N.B. The following post is based on conversations I have had in the
last few days with folks who are close to Obama's inner circle, as well
as folks who have played a role in the peace process in the past. But I
am responsible for its contents.

Who's In

If the main theme of the Obama campaign was "change," then the main
question to be posed to the nascent Obama administration is, "Are we
going going back to the Clinton era?" In recent days, Obama camp aides
have floated in the media some old names as trial balloons. We should
expect some of those baloons to pop. (Does anybody have a needle for
the Larry Summers' balloon?)

Two prominent members of the Clinton Mideast team – Dennis Ross and Dan
Kurtzer – still have seats aboard the Obama train, according to my
sources. I don't know whether they have been offered specific
positions, since without a Secretary of State or a National Security
Advisor we are in the embryonic phase of the administration. So perhaps
I should say that as things stand now, they are in. No surprise there,
of course; both Kurtzer and Ross were active as Obama advisors during
the campaign, although Ross was more visible, especially towards the

At first glance, Ross is, or should be, a persona non grata for Jewish
progressives, not so much for his liberal Zionist bias, but for his
petulant and tendentious criticisms of Arafat and the Palestinians
after the demise of the Peace Process, and for his willingness to serve
on the board of the Jewish People Policy Planning Institute of the
Elders of Zionism, oops, sorry, the Jewish Agency. (By the way, that's
how an old family friend and former head of the Agency, Chuck
Hoffberger, called it). To put a partisan Zionist like Dennis Ross in
charge of the US Peace Process would make little sense, as Haaretz
columnist Akiva Eldar recently implied. Still, Ross's expertise, not to
mention political savvy, qualifies him for occupying the liberal
Zionist seat at the Obama Mideast table – provided that the seat is not
located at the head of the table.

What ensures that Ross will not be running the show is the presence of
Dan Kurtzer, former Ambassador to Egypt and to Israel. Kurtzer recently
withdrew from being considered for the position of the Director of the
new Gildenhorn Center for Israel Studies at the University of Maryland
which suggested that he had bigger fish to fry, a suggestion that has
been confirmed. But Kurtzer will probably not consent to serve under
Dennis Ross, who, according to Aaron Miller, cut him out of the Peace
Process. Kurtzer's positions are more nuanced and balanced than Ross's,
though they are on the left-wing of American Zionism. Ross likes to see
himself as "centrist" between the Palestinians and the hardliner
Zionists, but he accepts the liberal Zionist narrative and is a fan of

It is more likely that Ross will expand his sights to include the
entire Middle East, especially Iran. That would be an even bigger pity,
since Ross wants to isolate Iran in the region, though he is not
entirely opposed to US carrots. Will Ross become a Super Envoy to the
Middle East? Hopefully not, since that sort of diplomacy hasn't been
successful in recent years. And, of course, Ross's level would almost
be that of the Secretary of State. What Secretary of State would be
willing to have somebody of Ross's stature around?

Indeed, the problem that Ross has, and Kurtzer doesn't, is that there
are not so many positions available to him. If he isn't Secretary of
State or National Security Advisor (the latter is more probable than
the former), then what can he do? Kurtzer, unlike Ross, hasn't risen
beyond the level of Ambassador. He certainly could be in line for the
position of Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs.

Who's Not In Yet

Rob Malley, the bugbear of rightwingers like Ed Laskey, not to mention
some really slimey bloggers, has served in the past as an advisor to
Barack Obama, and co-wrote the definitive analysis of the Camp David
debacle in the New York Review of Books (The article isn't free).
Malley is neither in nor out, according to my sources. Even though his
name seems forever linked to Obama and Hamas, according to the
rightwing rumor mongers, he did not contact Hamas recently on behalf of
Obama campaign (the contacts, reported in Haaretz, were subsequently
denied by Hamas) nor was he sent to Egypt and Syria on a mission from
Obama, despite a bogus news release to that effect by the Middle East
News Line. Apparently, the name "Malley" has become a synonym
for "Haman" in some quarters; upon hearing it one mindlessly makes
noise, no matter what the context or the truth of the story.

Who's Probably Out

Count out Martin Indyk, former US Ambassador to Israel, currently of
the Saban Center at the Brookings Institute. Indyk has completed an
interesting book on the Peace Process which will be published soon, and
whose conclusions may surprise those expecting more conventional
finger-pointing in the conclusion. Indyk, unlike many liberal
pro-Israel voices, does not want to advance Middle East peace tracks in
order to isolate Iran, but rather wants to get Iran to buy in (or at
least to think that she is buying in) to the process. Indyk's thinking
has evolved positively over the years, in contrast to Ross's, which has
essentially remained the same.

Also count out Aaron David Miller, whose memoir of the peace process is
one of the most perceptive, and certainly the most entertaining and
well-written. (It's a pity that it came out after Ross's book; whole
forests could have been saved.) Miller is a scholar at the Woodrow
Wilson Center for Public Policy. I think that he has eaten too many
rubber chickens and taken too many helicopter rides to be nostalgiac
for the glamourous life of a Peace Process advisor.

A Washington think tank may not be as sexy as shuttle diplomacy, but it
sure is better for one's social and family life.

Who's Really Out

Nowhere near Obama's Mideast team, as far as I know, is anybody who can
not just understand intellectually but empathize with the struggles and
suffering of the Palestinian people, say, a Palestinian American or a
Palestinian academic. Look, I have the highest respect and admiration
for Dan Kurtzer – frankly, he is one of the first modern orthodox Jews
who make me proud to be a member of that subgroup. But he remains a
modern orthodox Jew and a liberal Zionist. Why is it
so "out-of-the-box" to have a "modern orthodox" Palestinian advising
President Obama? In a country where "Arab" and "Palestinian" are used
as ethnic slurs, wouldn't it be nice for somebody like an Abunimeh or a
Khalidi, maybe somebody with foreign policy credentials, to be part of
that team?

Now that would be nice – for a real change

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