The Boston Study Group on Middle East Peace

It's been a eventful week for those of us who care about Israeli-Palestinian issues, and especially those who would like the United States to exert a more positive role in resolving this seemingly intractable conflict. (If you haven't done so already, be sure to read Mark Perry's remarkable piece on another part of the FP website.)  

I'll be posting a comment on recent events later today, but first I wanted to alert you to the official release of a joint product in which I am grateful to have been involved. For the past several years, I've been fortunate to participate in an informal study group on Middle East politics here in Boston, which met on a regular basis to discuss events in the region and ponder what might be done about them. The other members of the "Boston Study Group" were Prof. Lenore Martin of Emmanuel College, Prof. Herbert Kelman of Harvard's Department of Psychology and Social Relations, Prof. Henry Steiner from Harvard Law School, Prof. Harvey Cox from the Harvard Divinity School, Prof. Everett Mendelsohn from Harvard's History of Science department, Alan Berger of the Boston Globe, and Prof. Augustus Richard Norton from Boston University. Each member of the group has been studying these issues for many years, and several have been intimately involved in peace efforts for decades.

Although we didn't agree on every issue, every member of the group has been a strong proponent of a two-state solution and that conviction gave our efforts a certain unity of purpose. I learned an enormous amount from our discussions, and the camaraderie that developed within the group was wonderful. I'm grateful to the other members for including me in their deliberations, and for the many nuggets of wisdom that I gained from each of them.

Of course, given that this was a group of academics or professional writers, it was probably inevitable that we would eventually try to publish something. Our original idea was to produce a short primer on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and each of us drafted short papers on different aspects of the issue. We discussed each paper extensively and each author revised their original drafts in light of the group's comments. 

In the end, however, we decided it would be more helpful to draft a joint statement reaffirming the need for "two states for two peoples." Our hope was to lend additional support for President Obama's efforts to promote a two-state solution before it is too late, and events of the past week  merely underscore the need for decisive action. I'm pleased to report that both the joint statement and the supporting background papers have now been posted on the website of the Foreign Policy Association, under the title "Israel and Palestine: Two States for Two Peoples -- If Not Now, When?" You can download it here.


Stephen M. Walt

Is the New York Times trying to tell me something?

Sometimes I get the impression that the layout staff at the New York Times is sending me a message. On today's front page, for instance, there are two stories side-by-side that nicely illuminate some of what's wrong with contemporary American politics. The first headline is "Millions Being Spent to Sway Democrats on Health Care Bill," and the article details how drug companies and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce are showering dollars to try to derail the latest attempt to give Americans better health care. The second headline (in the print edition) is "Repair Costs Daunting as Water Lines Crumble," and the article describes how the sewer and water systems in Washington, D.C. -- the nation's capital -- are deteriorating after decades of neglect.

There you have it, ladies and gentlemen: Corporations have millions of dollars to spend on political advertising (and the Supreme Court recently made it even easier for them to sway politicians), while our national infrastructure crumbles and state and local governments flirt with bankruptcy. And don't get me started on the misplaced priorities that have us spending hundreds of billions of dollars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere, while Mexico faces a rising drug war right next door.

All this suggests a political system that is badly out of whack.  And maybe that's what the Times was trying to tell me.

Mario Tama/Getty Images