Robert Malley
Robert Malley. Photo by Screenshot
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Robert Malley, the White House aide who advised President Bill Clinton during his futile effort to broker an agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians at Camp David in 2000, is rejoining the White House, the New York Times reported on Tuesday.

The paper quoted administration officials as saying that Malley will manage the fraying ties between the United States and its allies in the Persian Gulf. As a senior director at the National Security Council, he will help devise American policy from Saudi Arabia to Iran.

Malley, who has been program director for the Middle East and North Africa at the International Crisis Group, has been something of a lightning rod in a field that can be culturally and ideologically treacherous. In 2008, he was forced to sever his ties as an informal adviser to the Obama presidential campaign when it was reported that he had met with members of Hamas, which the State Department classifies as a terrorist organization.

Malley also came under fire for an article, co-written with Hussein Agha, that argued that some of the blame for the failure of the Camp David talks lay with the Israeli leader at the time, Ehud Barak, and not just with the uncompromising position of the Palestinian leader, Yasir Arafat, which was the conventional wisdom then.

Some right-wing critics accused Malley of showing a persistent anti-Israel and pro-Palestinian bias in his writings. A few even cited his father, the prominent Egyptian-born Jewish journalist, Simon Malley, who had close ties to the Egyptian government.

But Malley was stoutly defended by five former colleagues from the Clinton administration — Sandy Berger, Dennis B. Ross, Martin S. Indyk, Daniel C. Kurtzer and Aaron David Miller — who wrote a letter condemning what they said were “vicious, personal attacks” that were “unfair, inappropriate and wrong.”

White House officials played down those controversies on Tuesday, saying Malley had forged strong relationships, including with officials in the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“There are always differences in tactics,” said Antony J. Blinken, the principal deputy national security adviser. But, he added, “I can’t think of anybody outside government who has a stronger set of relationships with the Israelis, as well as with people throughout the region.”

Malley, who declined to comment about his new job, will have plenty to keep him occupied. Next month, President Obama is scheduled to visit Saudi Arabia to meet with King Abdullah on what officials said will be a fence-mending mission.

Saudi Arabia has been frustrated by Obama’s unwillingness to do more to support rebel forces in Syria. The Saudis have funneled weapons to the rebels, in part because they view the civil war there as a proxy battle between Sunni Arabs and Shiite Iran, which is an important backer of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad.