Ezra Klein points to this fascinating article by Gershom Gorenberg (who has an awesome blog). Gorenberg argues that the Clinton camp’s effort to slime Barack Obama by tarring one of his advisors, Robert Malley, as an anti-Semite is misguided on several levels, the most significant being that Malley isn’t actually an anti-Semite.

That’s all well and good. But the most interesting part of the article pivots on an examination of the memory fight over the failed Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations at Camp David under President Bill Clinton. Gorenberg writes:

There’s more at work here than the usual, nearly boring, attempts to slime a liberal candidate as anti-Israel for the “sin” of supporting what Israel needs most — determined diplomatic efforts to achieve peace. Lurking in the background is another of the battles over how Israel-Palestinian history is told. In that fight, the original furious critic of Barack Obama’s adviser is former Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak. There’s also a lesson about Israeli-Palestinian diplomacy: Besides settling the practical questions, it requires resolving the conflicting narratives about the past. To approach this task, the next president will need not just hard work but a gift with rhetoric, with words.

Gorenberg then traces the Clinton camp’s animosity toward Malley back to Barak’s fit of pique in the wake of the publication of two articles in 2001: a piece in the Times, penned by Malley alone, and a long essay in the New York Review of Books article, co-authored by Malley. In each, Malley had the temerity to question the rectitude of Barak and Clinton — along with, it should be said, Arafat as well.

Barak replied to Malley in an interview in the New York Review of Books, a discussion in which Barak, in Gorenberg’s words, “asserted an essentialist cultural divide that made [a peace] agreement impossible.” Of the Palestinians, Barak said: they “are products of a culture in which to tell a lie … creates no dissonance. They don’t suffer from the problem of telling lies that exists in Judeo-Christian culture.”

Gorenberg then concludes his article with two paragraphs that I’ll quote in full:

The most common versions of the Israeli and Palestinian narrative share this: Each side perceives the other as wanting to push it out of the land through both aggression and artifice. Those stories helped foil the talks at Camp David. They also shape the post mortems. The story told by Barak, erstwhile peacemaker, reinforces the old story of conflict. Malley’s account — a careful, scholarly telling by a diplomat committed to Israel’s future — is met with ferocious emotion by those who misperceive it as an assault on Israel’s very existence. The reaction becomes another obstacle to understanding of the past and to future compromise.

There’s two implications here: Precisely because he is committed to Israel’s well-being, Barack Obama will do well to listen to Robert Malley’s analysis of Israeli-Palestinian diplomacy. But if he has the opportunity, beginning next January, to renew diplomatic efforts, he will need to do more than reconcile conflicting interests. He will have to look for ways to reconcile the conflicting stories. The right choice of words will be critical. It’s said that Obama has some skill in that realm.

The whole essay is worth your time, I think. As is Gorenberg’s outstanding blog.