Robert Danin is senior fellow for Middle East studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. He is also a senior fellow at the Belfer Center’s Middle East Initiative at Harvard University’s Kennedy School. Prior to joining CFR, he headed the Jerusalem mission of the Quartet representative, Tony Blair, from April 2008 until August 2010. A former career State Department official with over twenty years of Middle East experience, Dr. Danin previously served as deputy assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs with responsibilities for Israeli-Palestinian issues and Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and Egypt. He also served at the National Security Council for over three years, first as director for Israeli-Palestinian affairs and the Levant and then as acting senior director for Near East and North African affairs. A recipient of the State Department's Superior Honor Award, Dr. Danin served as a Middle East and Gulf specialist on the Secretary of State's Policy Planning Staff, and as a State Department senior Middle East political and military analyst. Prior to joining the State Department, he worked as a Jerusalem-based journalist covering Israeli and Palestinian politics. He has served as a thought leader for the World Economic Forum since 2012.
Dr. Danin has published widely, including in Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, the Financial Times,Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, and The Atlantic. His commentary has also been featured in the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, the Financial Times, Wall Street Journal, and TIME; and he has been a frequent guest on a wide range of television and broadcast media, including the PBS NewsHour, Charlie Rose, CNN, BBC, MSNBC, NPR, as well as Turkish, Arabic, and Israeli television and radio. He is a contributing author of Pathways to Peace: America and the Arab-Israeli Conflict (Palgrave Macmillan 2012), and Iran: The Nuclear Challenge (CFR 2012).
Dr. Danin holds a BA in history from the University of California, Berkeley, an MSFS degree from Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service, and a doctorate in the international relations of the Middle East from St. Antony's College, Oxford University.
Defining U.S. Interests in the Middle East
The United States constantly faces major challenges in the Middle East that require high-level attention and the commitment of significant military, economic, and diplomatic resources. Despite attempts to pivot toward Asia, senior U.S. officials find themselves spending a disproportionate amount of time on the Middle East. When deciding to use force in Syria and Iraq, provide military assistance to Egypt, or pursue sustained high-level initiatives to forge Israeli-Palestinian peace, American leaders invoke U.S. national interests in the Middle East. Rarely, however, are these interests clearly spelled out or are the assumptions on which they are based questioned. Since the end of the Cold War, the way that the United States has defined its interests in the Middle East has evolved in dramatic ways. These changed perceptions of U.S. national interests contributed to dramatic shifts in strategic priorities. Whereas the United States once sought to preserve regional stability above all, it came to see an imperative in transforming the region by toppling dictators and promoting democratic change. My work on these issues will result in a book on changing U.S. interests in the Middle East and suggest that the United States needs to define its interests with greater precision, while finding a way to narrow the gap between its ideals and actions in the region. I also convene the "Critical Issues in the Middle East" roundtable series and write the Middle East Matters blog.
The Future of the Two-State Solution
In 1991, the United States launched the first serious direct Israeli-Palestinian negotiations in Madrid. In the more than twenty years since, negotiations have continued, from Oslo to Camp David to Annapolis to the more recent initiatives led by the Obama administration. With the failure of Secretary of State John Kerry's effort in April 2014, and the Gaza war that followed soon after, confidence in both the peace process and in U.S. leadership is at a low. Many analysts and policymakers question the possibilities for peace, while many Israelis and Palestinians doubt the viability of a two-state solution. Are peace negotiations possible, and if so under what conditions? Are there ways to push forward towards the end goal of two states in the absence of high-level negotiations? What can be achieved through a sustained effort at Palestinian state-building? What is to be done about Gaza's political and economic isolation? My work on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict—a book chapter, a CFR policy memo, various op-eds, and blog posts—addresses these questions.
U.S. policy of isolating Gaza is counterproductive and inadvertently helps entrench the terrorist group Hamas' control. The Obama administration should instead encourage trade and contacts between the West Bank and Gazan people to reestablish national institutions and elections, thereby empowering Palestinian partners for peace.
In his chapter, "Integrating the Top-down with the Bottom-up Approach to Israeli-Palestinian Peace," CFR Eni Enrico Mattei senior fellow Robert Danin analyzes the "bottom-up" approach to peacemaking, focusing on Palestinian state-building and institution-building, while noting the integral, mutually reinforcing connection between ground-up and top-down approaches to the peace process—one cannot succeed without the other.
In what may be the clearest picture of Iran's nuclear program to date, Iran: The Nuclear Challenge maps the objectives, tools, and strategies for dealing with one of the most vexing issues facing the United States and global community today.
It's unclear whether Muammar Qaddafi's regime will survive after a failed, but brutal, crackdown on protesters in Libya. But if Qaddafi goes, CFR's Robert Danin says Libya lacks the elements needed for a smooth and peaceful transition of power.
The level of public anger against homegrown problems in Egypt and other Arab countries is something new, and it pushes the Obama administration back in the direction of the Bush-era "freedom agenda," says CFR's Robert Danin.
With the U.S. ending its push for Israeli settlement freeze as a precondition for Israel-Palestinian talks, the Obama administration should now focus on managing expectations as much as conflict resolution, says CFR's Robert Danin.
The WikiLeaks revelations aren't likely to do lasting damage, but CFR experts say they will make it harder to collaborate with governments such as Pakistan, hurt sensitive relationships, and hinder the open exchanges successful diplomacy requires.
If Israelis and Palestinians can't reach an accommodation on settlement construction, talks will end and credibility on all sides--including that of the Obama administration--will suffer, says CFR's Robert Danin.
The Israeli and Palestinian leaders launched new Mideast talks with seriousness and without theatrics but face a looming deadline on settlements and a tight timeline for success, says CFR's Robert Danin.
Progress is possible in the newly announced Mideast talks, but the Obama administration will need to display deft leadership to overcome deep mistrust between Israelis and Palestinians, writes CFR's Robert Danin.
Director: Robert Danin, Senior Fellow for Middle East Studies February 18, 2011—Present
Increasingly, Israelis and Palestinians are discussing unilateral steps they can take as an alternative to failed negotiating efforts. One notable option that is gaining traction is a possible Palestinian unilateral declaration of statehood. Similarly, some Israelis are looking at steps they can take to ensure their security if bilateral agreements prove impossible. Made possible in part by the generous support of the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, the Roundtable Series on Israeli and Palestinian Unilateralism aims to create a forum for an informed debate on unilateral actions by examining their legal and political implications and their possible consequences for the region.
Director: Robert Danin, Senior Fellow for Middle East Studies October 18, 2010—Present
From the Atlantic to the Gulf of Oman, the Middle East is witnessing unprecedented change and transformation. At this pivotal time of popular uprisings, revolutions, and ongoing efforts toward Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking, this roundtable series seeks to generate a deeper, richer understanding of the vast array of issues currently shaping the region. To this end, the series brings together policymakers, opinion leaders, and government officials with the most intimate knowledge of the Middle East to enrich the dialogue both on developments in the region and U.S. policy.
PanelistsRobert DaninEni Enrico Mattei Senior Fellow for Middle East and Africa Studies, Council on Foreign Relations, Ari ShavitSenior Columnist, Haaretz Newspaper; Author, My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel PresiderDavid RemnickEditor, The New Yorker
November 20, 201312:30–1:00 p.m. - Lunch 1:00–2:00 p.m. - Meeting
SpeakersElliott AbramsSenior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies, Council on Foreign Relations, Robert DaninEni Enrico Mattei Senior Fellow for Middle East and Africa Studies, Council on Foreign Relations, Richard A. FalkenrathShelby Cullom and Kathryn W. Davis Adjunct Senior Fellow for Counterterrorism and Homeland Security, Council on Foreign Relations PresiderRobert D. BlackwillHenry A. Kissinger Senior Fellow for U.S. Foreign Policy, Council on Foreign Relations; Editor, Iran: The Nuclear Challenge
SpeakersRobert DaninEni Enrico Mattei Senior Fellow for Middle East and Africa Studies, Council on Foreign Relations, Daniel P. SerwerProfessorial Lecturer and Senior Fellow, Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies PresiderJames M. LindsaySenior Vice President, Director of Studies, and Maurice R. Greenberg Chair, Council on Foreign Relations
Eni Enrico Mattei Chair in Middle East and Africa Studies: The Arab Uprisings: Initial Observations
SpeakerRobert DaninEni Enrico Mattei Senior Fellow for Middle East and Africa Studies, Council on Foreign Relations PresiderRichard N. HaassPresident, Council on Foreign Relations Introductory SpeakerPaolo ScaroniChief Executive Officer, Eni
Dr. Robert Danin, Eni Enrico Mattei Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, discussed the resignation of former British prime minister Tony Blair as the Middle East envoy for the Quartet on BBC Newshour.
Dr. Robert Danin, Eni Enrico Mattei Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, gave remarks at University of California, Berekeley's Institute of International Studies on U.S. policy towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Despite the hope of a cease-fire, the bloody conflict between Israel and Hamas continues. NBC's Ayman Mohyeldin reports from Gaza and Ezra Klein discusses the situation with the Council on Foreign Relations' Robert Danin.
The most recent Israeli offensive in Gaza begins its eighth day on Tuesday, marked by escalating rhetoric and violence on both sides despite international pleas for peace. According to Palestinian officials, over 175 people have been killed in Gaza, most of them civilians. Meanwhile, Israel says close to 1,000 rockets have been fired from Gaza. Now, Egypt is proposing a ceasefire to start Tuesday morning. Robert Danin of the Council on Foreign Relations discusses on KQED's Forum with Michael Krasny.
After the largest Israeli military operation in the West Bank in ten years, the bodies of the three kidnapped Israeli Yeshiva students were found on Monday, June 30. Robert Danin discusses with Katty Kay of BBC World News America.
Pope Francis met with King Abdullah in Jordan Saturday on the first day of a three-day tour of the Middle East, stressing the relationships between Christianity, Judaism and Islam. This is only the fourth visit of a pope to the region in fifty years. Robert Danin of the Council on Foreign Relations talks with Hari Sreenivasan about the Pope's balancing act of destinations and words.
After years of inaction, Israelis and Palestinians recently agreed to return to the negotiating table. With all so-called "final status" issues -- such as borders, refugee rights, and the status of Jerusalem -- ont he table, many onlookers are guardedly optimistic. Robert Danin discusses with Kojo Nnamdi, host of the "Kojo Nnamdi Show."
As Israeli and Palestinian officials head to Washington for their first face-to-face peace talks in more than three years, Secretary Kerry's peace efforts are met with skepticism. Robert Danin discusses with NPR's Michele Kelemen on "All Things Considered."
A preview of President Obama's Middle East speech with Rami Khouri of American University of Beirut, Robert Danin of the Council on Foreign Relations, and Michele Dunne of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
Libyan leader Muammar al-Qaddafi is refusing to step down as international condemnation of the violent crackdown on protesters grows. Jeffrey Brown talks about the growing unrest in the North African nation with Robert Danin of the Council on Foreign Relations and Mary-Jane Deeb of the Library of Congress.