Robert M. 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.
See more in Palestine; Peace, Conflict, and Human Rights
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.
See more in Middle East and North Africa; Peace, Conflict, and Human Rights; Politics and Strategy
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.
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The four speeches given by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. President Barack Obama highlight the lack of agreement and level of mistrust between the leaders, and emphasize the need for better channels of communication, says CFR's Robert Danin.
See more in Israel; United States; Politics and Strategy
President Obama asserted U.S. support for self-determination for the people of the Mideast and broke new ground on a territorial basis for Palestinian-Israeli talks, but tough challenges await on many fronts, says CFR's Robert Danin.
See more in Middle East and North Africa; Politics and Strategy
With envoy George Mitchell's departure, U.S. policy toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict changes, from the quest for an end of the conflict to the search for a strategy to manage the current crisis, says CFR's Robert Danin.
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The mixed reactions in the Mideast to Osama bin Laden's killing by U.S. forces highlights a region in flux and a terror movement symbolically, but not overwhelmingly, weakened, writes CFR's Robert Danin.
See more in Middle East and North Africa; Counterterrorism; Terrorist Leaders
With the United States now militarily engaged in Libya and U.S. allies seemingly at odds over goals, it is imperative that President Obama more clearly define the nation's objectives and the means to achieve them, says CFR's Robert Danin.
See more in NATO; Libya
Protests in Jordan have led to the fall of the government, but its monarchy is secure and should not be seen as another Arab regime ready to topple, says CFR's Robert Danin.
See more in Egypt; Political Movements and Protests; Jordan
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.
See more in Israel; Palestine; Diplomacy and Statecraft; Peacekeeping
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.
See more in Israel; Palestine; Diplomacy and Statecraft
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.
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Amid inflamed rhetoric in Jerusalem and strained ties with Washington, Israeli and Palestinian leaders must find ways to avoid an escalation of tensions, says CFR's Robert Danin.
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The latest round of fighting between Hamas and Israel is likely to intensify while marginalizing the Palestinian Authority, says CFR's Robert M. Danin.
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As Israelis and Palestinians balk at compromises pushed by the United States, Secretary of State John Kerry is back in the region trying to keep talks on track, says CFR's Robert Danin.
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Amid diplomatic challenges on Iran and Syria, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu could face conservative opposition at home for progress on peace with Palestinians, says CFR's Robert Danin.
See more in Israel; Nonproliferation, Arms Control, and Disarmament
President Obama travels to Israel to deliver a message of reassurance on the alliance, but will be meeting a new government divided on the Palestinian peace process, says CFR's Robert Danin.
See more in Israel; United States; Politics and Strategy
Just days away from parliamentary elections, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is widely expected to form a new government in coming weeks, but what that coalition will look like is still unclear, says CFR's Robert M. Danin.
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President Obama should make a trip to the region soon to signal a renewed commitment to helping resolve the conflict between Palestine and Israel, says CFR's Robert Danin.
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Violence against U.S. diplomatic missions in Libya and Egypt highlights the difficult road ahead for U.S. relations with these struggling states, says CFR's Robert Danin.
See more in Diplomacy and Statecraft; Egypt; Religion; Libya
Egypt's new president Mohamed Morsi faces an ongoing struggle with the military, but the United States must proceed carefully because of the high stakes in Egypt, says CFR's Robert M. Danin
See more in Egypt; Presidents and Chiefs of State
Benjamin Netanyahu's agreement with the Kadima Party reflects a public more concerned about economic and social issues than whether to strike Iran, says CFR's Robert M. Danin.
See more in Israel; Palestine; Elections; Political Movements and Protests
Syria's regime appears increasingly isolated and erratic in response to civil unrest, posing a challenge to the Arab League to prevent a spread of conflict, says CFR's Robert M. Danin.
See more in Syria; Political Movements and Protests