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Tracking militarists’ efforts to influence U.S. foreign policy

David Makovsky

  • Washington Institute for Near East Policy: Fellow

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David Makovsky is the Ziegler distinguished fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP)—a spin-off of the better known American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC)—where he directs the Project on the Middle East Peace Process.[1]

Makovsky is a past editor of the conservative Jerusalem Postand has worked for the Israel daily Haaretzas well as U.S. News and World Report.He is also a lecturer at Johns Hopkins University’s Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), which has been home to a number of neoconservative figures, including Eliot Cohen, Paul Wolfowitz, and Gary Schmitt. Makovsky’s brother, Michael Makovsky, is the CEO of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs , where he has been a leading proponent of hawkish U.S. policiesonIran.

Supporting A Two-State Solution in Israel-Palestine

A frequent lecturer on college campuses, Makovsky has charted a relatively moderate course on Israel-Palestine, his primary charge at WINEP. Makovsky strongly supports a two-state solution and has maintained that it is possible, even when many other advocates have fallen into despair.

“Israel needs to align its settlement policy with a two-state approach that enables Israeli-Palestinian compromise,” Makovsky wrote in November 2017. “This would be a strong signal to counter the belief, reflected in Palestinian polls, that Israel wants the entire West Bank. None of this suggests that the barrier would necessarily be the border in a final-status agreement. That border would remain to be negotiated by the parties.

“It is not too late. Those on both the right and the left that rush to proclaim the death of the two-state solution due to settlement population growth are too fatalistic. One cannot be certain about the political will to make it happen, but 70 years later, there is — at least for now — a way.”[2]

Makovsky has also been a prime example cited by those who believe that the mainstream two-state arguments are an illusion. He reinforced this idea when—with his frequent co-author and fellow WINEP fellow, Dennis Ross , a former adviser to the Obama administration whose close ties to Israel have prompted criticism —he argued that President Donald Trump ’s decision to move the U.S. embassy from Tel  Aviv to Jerusalem was “not a disaster.”

Makovsky and Ross wrote that, “[W]hat the president said does not concede (Arab, Palestinian, and Muslim) rights and claims. His recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital reflects a reality that it is the seat of Israel’s government and that, for the Jewish state, Jerusalem will always be its capital — there is no other city that could be. For Palestinians, they too no doubt cannot envision any city but Jerusalem as the capital of their state, if and when it emerges from moribund negotiations. The president’s statement does not rule that out: On the contrary, he said that the United States is not taking a position on ‘the specific boundaries of the Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem, or the resolution of contested borders.’ Those questions, he said, ‘are up to the parties involved.’”[3]

In due course, however, the common interpretation of Trump’s decision was confirmed when he declared that he had “taken Jerusalem off the table,” which the Palestinians and most others took to mean it was outside the scope of negotiations.[4]Makovsky and Ross had no reaction to that.

Early into President Barack Obama’s second term, Makovsky and WINEP colleague David Pollock suggested a modest course for U.S. diplomacy, including encouraging leaders on each side of the conflict to reiterate moderate statements—for example, pressuring Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to reiterate his support for a Palestinian state, and prodding Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to relinquish Palestinian claims to Israel proper. “Perhaps these suggestions seem simple,” they wrote, “but words really do matter.”[5]

On Iran

On Iran, however, Makovsky has taken a harder line. Long skeptical of the West’s incremental approach to diplomacy with Iran over Tehran’s nuclear enrichment activities, Makovsky has advocated setting a deadline for Iran to reach an agreement with Washington. “It would be useful if Obama would repeat often his earlier statements that the U.S. window for diplomacy is closing,” Makovsky wrote in a 2012 issue brief with Patrick Clawson . “He can say what has been said by his advisors: at a certain point in late 2013, the United States will no longer be able to vouch that Iran does not have a nuclear weapon. In short, the U.S. timetable is finite and not open-ended.” Making clear that contingencies should include a U.S. or Israeli strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities, they added, “In such a discussion, Washington should clarify that it is not afraid of talks failing.”[6]

Makovsky reiterated these views in a May 2013 Washington Post op-ed co-written with WINEP’s Dennis Ross. Arguing that the United States should proffer Iran an ultimatum, they wrote that “the United States needs to establish greater clarity about what we can and cannot live with regarding Iran’s nuclear program and give further credence to the administration’s statements that the time for diplomacy is running out.” The Obama administration, they said, should offer the Iranians “the opportunity to have civil nuclear capability” in exchange for strict caps on enrichment and a robust enforcement regime. If the Iranians refuse, Makovsky and Ross wrote, “their real aims of acquiring nuclear weapons would be revealed. In such circumstances, the United States would be far better positioned to make the case to the international community that military action is warranted.”[7]

“These ideas,” wrote Ali Gharib for the Daily Beast, “suffer most from their own premises and assumptions”—namely that most Iran experts agree that U.S. military action be unlikely to erase Iran’s alleged nuclear capability, and more likely harden the resolve of Iran’s leaders to develop nuclear weapons. The result, wrote Gharib, “would be either perpetual war—’mowing the lawn,’ as the Israeli euphemism has it—or invading and occupying Iran.” Opining that the two authors were offering a threat of war cloaked in reasonable-sounding language, Gharib concluded: “Ross and Makovsky proffer a deadline exactly as the missing ingredient to striking a deal. When it does not get made, we will be at war.”[8]

Yet after the deal was concluded, Makovsky remained largely silent about it. He scrupulously avoided any statements that might be construed as support for leaving the deal. Instead, he focused on Iran’s position in Syria.

“I was struck,” Makovsky wrote, “during a recent visit by how nervous so many senior Israeli officials were about what unfolding developments in eastern Syria means for them in the months ahead—as well as how concerned they were about the enforcement of President Donald Trump’s recent cease-fire deal in southern Syria with Russia and Jordan.”

Other observers also noted Israel’s discomfort with the southern Syria cease-fire. One journalist warned that Israel would not accept the arrangement quietly, writing, “Israel’s dissatisfaction with the arrangement was well known, even before the agreement was finalized. Netanyahu worked the phones with both Trump and Putin, making it clear he did not consider having Iran’s ally, Russia, as the guarantor of Israeli concerns in southern Syria satisfactory. These concerns were heard and summarily ignored by both Russia and the United State.”[9]In the ensuing months, Israeli attacks on Iranian positions in Syria became more frequent and provocative.[10]

Other Publications

Makovsky is the author of several works on Middle East affairs, including Making Peace with the PLO: The Rabin Government’s Road to the Oslo Accord(HarperCollins, 1996), and the 2009 book Myths, Illusions, and Peace: Finding a New Direction in the Middle East(Viking/Penguin), co-authored Dennis Ross. In a review of the book for Foreign Affairs, L. Carl Brown writes that Ross and Makovsky provide a “Goldilocks” approach to the “myth” that all Mideast problems are linked to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, arguing that “the neoconservative’s approach is too hot, the realist school’s is too cold, and theirs is just right.” Writes Brown, “Even while dissociating the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from other problems, the authors demonstrate linkages galore and stress the importance of resolving it. Surely, the old adage that in the Middle East everything is linked to everything else offers a better road map than denying any linkage between Israel and other issues.”[11]

In 2011, Makovsky created an interactive map of Israeli settlements which attempted to show how a border between Israel and a new Palestinian state could still be practically created.[12]


[1]WINEP, “David Makovsky,” http://www.washingtoninstitute.org/experts/view/makovsky-david.

[2]David Makovsky. “70 years after partition, a two state solution is still possible,” Washington Post, November 29, 2017, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/global-opinions/wp/2017/11/29/70-years-after-partition-a-two-state-solution-is-still-possible/?utm_term=.f0b30bd5ea45

[3]Dennis Ross and David Makovsky, “Moving US embassy to Jerusalem is not a disaster,” The Morning Call, December 9, 2017, www.mcall.com/opinion/yourview/mc-us-embassy-jerusalem-yv-1210-20171209-story.html

[4]Peter Jacobs, “Trump just doubled down on a big change to Israel policy and confirmed Jerusalem is ‘off the table,’” Business Insider, January 25, 2018, http://www.businessinsider.com/trump-israel-jerusalem-off-the-table-davos-2018-1

[5]David Makovsky and David Pollock, “Obama, Israelis, and Palestinians: More Words, Less Action,” The Atlantic, January 11, 2013,http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2013/01/obama-israelis-and-palestinians-more-words-less-action/267061/

[6]Patrick Clawson and David Makovsky, “Preventing an Iranian Nuclear Breakout: U.S.-Israeli Coordination,” WINEP, Strategic Report 8, September 2012, p. 13, http://www.washingtoninstitute.org/uploads/Documents/pubs/StrategicReport8.pdf

[7]Dennis Ross and David Makovsky, “Iran’s nuclear games demand a tougher U.S. approach,” May 27, 2013, Washington Post, http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/irans-nuclear-games-demand-for-a-tougher-us-approach/2013/05/27/36464e7e-c6e3-11e2-9245-773c0123c027_story.html

[8]Ali Gharib, “How Not To Negotiate With Iran,” Daily Beast, May 29, 2013, http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2013/05/29/how-not-to-negotiate-with-iran.html

[9]Mitchell Plitnick, “Why Trump Can Do No Wrong In Netanyahu’s Eyes,” Lobelog, August 22, 2017, https://lobelog.com/why-trump-can-do-no-wrong-in-netanyahus-eyes/

[10]Mitchell Plitnick, “What To Do In Syria?” Lobelog, April 17, 2018, https://lobelog.com/what-to-do-in-syria/

[11]L. Carl Brown, “Finding a New Direction for America in the Middle East,” Foreign Affairs, September/October 2009, http://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/65383/dennis-ross-and-david-makovsky/myths-illusions-and-peace-finding-a-new-direction-for-america-in

[12]David Makovsky, “Imagining the Israeli-Palestinian Border,” Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 2011, http://www.washingtoninstitute.org/interactiveMaps/index.html

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[1] WINEP, “David Makovsky,” http://www.washingtoninstitute.org/experts/view/makovsky-david.

[2] David Makovsky and David Pollock, “Obama, Israelis, and Palestinians: More Words, Less Action,” The Atlantic, January 11, 2013, http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2013/01/obama-israelis-and-palestinians-more-words-less-action/267061/.

[3] Patrick Clawson and David Makovsky, “Preventing an Iranian Nuclear Breakout: U.S.-Israeli Coordination,” WINEP, Strategic Report 8, September 2012, p. 13, http://www.washingtoninstitute.org/uploads/Documents/pubs/StrategicReport8.pdf.

[4] Dennis Ross and David Makovsky, “Iran’s nuclear games demand a tougher U.S.approach,” May 27, 2013, Washington Post, http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/irans-nuclear-games-demand-for-a-tougher-us-approach/2013/05/27/36464e7e-c6e3-11e2-9245-773c0123c027_story.html.

[5] Ali Gharib, “How Not To Negotiate With Iran,” Daily Beast, May 29, 2013, http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2013/05/29/how-not-to-negotiate-with-iran.html.

[6] L. Carl Brown, “Finding a New Direction for America in the Middle East,” Foreign Affairs, September/October 2009, http://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/65383/dennis-ross-and-david-makovsky/myths-illusions-and-peace-finding-a-new-direction-for-america-in.

[7] WINEP, “David Makovsky,” http://www.washingtoninstitute.org/experts/view/makovsky-david.

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David Makovsky Résumé

Washington Institute for Near East Policy: ZieglerFellow
Johns Hopkins University’s Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies: Lecturer
Council on Foreign Relations: Member
International Institute for Strategic Studies: Member
Jerusalem Post: Former Executive Editor
Haaretz: Former Diplomatic Correspondent
U.S. News and World Report: Former Contributing Editor
Columbia University: BA
Harvard University: MA in Middle East studies


David Makovsky News Feed

How the Palestinian-Israeli Peace Process Became a Farce - The New York TimesMiddle East peace process is a farce now - Gulf NewsThomas Friedman: How the Palestinian-Israeli peace process became a farce - The Register-GuardHow the peace process became a farce | Opinion - Indiana GazetteWhat Resulted From Kushner's Conference About Ending The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict - NPRBDS 'Has Become A Pawn' - Jewish WeekJared Kushner’s all-or-nothing mistake in the Middle East - The Washington PostNetanyahu Has Support To Build A Majority In Israel's Parliament - NPRNew Rumblings on the US Jewish Right - The Jewish VoiceAre Israeli Politics Dooming Kushner's Peace Push? - POLITICONetanyahu’s high-cost pandering to West Bank settlers doesn't even win him their votes - HaaretzDavid Makovsky - Foreign PolicyFacing corruption charges, has Netanyahu lost his 'magic'? - PBS NewsHourUMass Hillel hosts conversation between Middle East experts - The Massachusetts Daily CollegianSo much winning: Why Mahmoud Abbas thinks he's beating Trump - and Israel - HaaretzPeace Process: Going to Bahrain with annexation on the mind - The Jerusalem PostGolan policy may invite Israel’s right to annex West Bank territory. That would spell disaster. - The Washington PostAmid skepticism, US to launch first part of Middle East peace plan in Bahrain - CNBCGive pressuring the Palestinians a chance - The Jerusalem Post40 Years of Peace Between Israel and Egypt - The Wall Street Journal

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