Makovsky brothers; 'Half Midwest and Half Mideast' | St. Louis Public Radio

Makovsky brothers; 'Half Midwest and Half Mideast'

Feb 7, 2011

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: WASHINGTON -- From his office overlooking Washington's main business district, David Makovsky offers his pragmatic take on the question that everyone from White House aides to PBS's Jim Lehrer ask of him: What's the prospect of sustained peace between the Israelis and Palestinians?

"My belief is that if we pose things as Israel versus the Palestinians, if we look at each of these camps as monolithic, we'll never get anywhere," said Makovsky, an expert on the Middle East peace process who's worked for more than a decade at a think tank, Washington Institute for Near East Policy. "If we give up on the hope of peace, the problems are going to remain and will become more aggravated. We need to focus on what is doable here and try to end this tragedy."

An attainable goal, according to Makovsky, is bridging the differences between Israelis and Palestinians over who should occupy what territory in the highly contested West Bank. Makovsky wants to "bring this debate literally down to earth," and he has done so by creating a series of intricate maps showing potential land swaps between the two sides that he hopes will ignite serious discussions on the territorial issue.

The project, released to the public last month, has attracted significant press coverage, and attention among Israeli and Palestinian officials. It is a particularly hot topic of conversation among the Washington contingent of the Makovskys, who have made names for themselves as foreign policy experts in the nation's capital. David's younger brother, Michael Makovsky, is foreign policy director of the Bipartisan Policy Center, another D.C. think tank. Their uncle, Alan Makovsky, is a senior professional staff member at the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee.

"When we get together the three of us, it's half Mideast and half Midwest," David Makovsky said of the typical family discussion.

Mixed in with observations about oil politics and the stability of foreign regimes are passionate debates about what lengths St. Louis Cardinals management should go to resign Albert Pujols. Born and raised in St. Louis, the Makovskys keep a close eye on their hometown and haven't lost their zeal for Cardinals baseball, even though their schedules often only allow for intermittent checks of game trackers and box scores.

Current Events at the Dinner Table

Both David and Michael recall growing up in a household where politics and world affairs were popular dinnertime topics. Their father, historian Donald Makovsky, set the tone by telling bedtime stories with historical themes.

Alan credits Donald, his oldest brother, with introducing politics and historical lessons into family conversations. He also points to the influence of his maternal grandfather, Sam Freedman, whom Alan calls the "political dean of the family." Freedman was a dress designer and businessman who immigrated to St. Louis from a part of Russia that is now Poland, and lived in University City (as did the parents of both Alan, and David and Michael).

"Meals at my grandparents' house were a non-stop discussion/debate about books and about the political events of the day, with my grandfather taking the lead," Alan said in an email. "I loved it, and he greatly influenced my love of both history and contemporary affairs."

Added David: "It was a family where we often discussed current events when we got together. So maybe it's not coincidental that Alan, Michael and I all end up in Washington and all end up working on these [foreign policy] issues."

David Makovsky: Expert on Israeli/palestinian Relations

David Makovsky pinpoints Egyptian President Anwar El Sadat's 1977 trip to Israel — the first official visit to the Jewish state by an Arab leader — as a moment when he felt encouraged to be involved in foreign policy. "It seemed to be an age of possibility -- the hopes for Israel and Arabs coming together were real," he said.

David's journalism career began in earnest during the summer of 1987, when he filled in for Wolf Blitzer in the Washington bureau of theJerusalem Post while the future CNN host wrote a book. Makovsky impressed his bosses — he was hired full time at the Post upon graduating from Harvard with a master's degree in Middle Eastern studies.

Makovsky became diplomatic correspondent for the newspaper, and for years covered the peace process in the Middle East. He took the same job for the competing newspaper Haaretz before returning to the Post to become executive editor.

As a reporter, Makovsky became the first journalist writing for an Israeli publication to file articles from Damascus, Syria. To make that trip a reality, then-Secretary of State Warren Christopher intervened on his behalf. Along with that first trip in 1994, Makovsky made four visits to Syria, the latest in 1999 when he accompanied then-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.

Makovsky left journalism in 2000 and joined The Washington Institute for Near East Policy to run its Project on the Middle East Peace Process. He continues to write extensively about Israeli-Palestinian relations and frequently talks about the peace process as a guest on programs such as Lehrer's NewsHour.

Makovsky also writes prolifically on relations between the United States and the key players in the Middle East. He co-authored the book "Myths, Illusions & Peace: Finding A New Direction For America in the Middle East," along with Dennis Ross, senior director of the National Security Council.

It's common for Makovsky to travel four times a year to the Middle East. He's met with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas several times in recent months and is in regular contact with both Palestinian and Israeli officials.

Most recently, Makovsky has been spreading the word about his maps report, "Imagining the Border: Options for Resolving the Israeli-Palestinian Territorial Issue." The maps (none of which the Washington Institute specifically endorses) demonstrate how a Palestinian state in the West Bank would look.

Makovsky takes into account current demographics, including the scores of Jewish settlers living in a small segment of the West Bank. The report outlines potential land swap options should Israel and the Palestinian Authority trade settlement blocs for offsetting land within Israel's pre-1967 boundary.

The project is based on Makovsky's firm belief that it's possible to reconcile the territorial ambition of the Palestinians with Israel's desire to retain control over a majority of its settlers. Redrawing borders is a delicate exercise, but Makovsky writes in the report that the gaps between the two sides on the territory issue "appear to be more bridgeable and less deeply emotive" than the differences on the future of Jerusalem and the fate of Palestinian refugees.

"We need to open up the maps in order to give people an understanding of the geography and demography of the West Bank," he said in the interview.

Michael Makovsky: a Career in Energy Policy

Their professional lives rarely overlap, but when given the opportunity the Makovsky brothers come together for work, such as the time David accepted a spot on a panel about Iran that was hosted by Michael.

"We talk about these issues together, whether it's Iran or the Israeli-Palestinian conflict," Michael Makovsky said. "It's helpful because each of us brings different perspectives and experiences."

Michael Makovsky speaks and writes often about the threat of a nuclear Iran and the options for the United States in preventing the country from gaining this dangerous capability. Diplomacy, further sanctions and military strikes should all be on the table, he argues.

As foreign policy director at the Bipartisan Policy Center, a nonprofit organization established in 2007 by former Republican and Democratic senate majority leaders, Makovsky makes the case that America's feuding political parties can often come together on issues such as Iran and how to improve our relationship with Russia.

Michael Makovsky follows his brother's pragmatic approach in addressing these hot-button international issues. "It's widely accepted that [the United State government] can help prevent conflict overseas, and it's certainly in our interest to do so in countries that are potentially unstable," he said.

Much of Makovsky's focus is on the intersection of global politics, energy markets and America's security interests. His academic background touches all of these areas – a history degree at University of Chicago, an MBA in finance from Columbia Business School and a PhD in diplomatic history from Harvard.

Well before joining the Bipartisan Policy Center, Makovsky was a legislative correspondent for Sen. John Danforth and a campaign manager during two Missouri legislative races.

From 2002 to 2006, Makovsky earned a political appointment to serve as special assistant for Iraqi energy policy in the Office of Secretary of Defense. He also was a top official in the Washington office of the Coalition Provisional Authority, the entity that temporarily governed Iraq following the 2003 invasion. He advised defense, national security and energy officials on Iraqi energy policy.

After leaving the Pentagon, Makovsky founded an energy and political risk consulting firm. He remains an energy consultant on the side.

Alan Makovsky: Capitol Hill Adviser

David and Michael's uncle, Alan Makovsky, is the family representative on Capitol Hill. At the House Foreign Affairs Committee, he drafts legislation, speeches and press releases, and also advises the top Democrat on the committee, Rep. Howard Berman, D-Calif., on policy related to the Middle East, Greece, Turkey, Cyprus and the Caucuses.

One of the challenges, Makovsky said, is "simply keeping up with developments — especially at a time, like now, when several Middle East issues are hot at once."

Makovsky studied Middle Eastern history both at the University of Michigan and Princeton University. He lived in Turkey, Israel and Egypt as a Fulbright scholar. While overseas, he learned Hebrew and Arabic, and took courses on Israeli, Jewish and Arab history. During his time in Turkey, Makovsky discovered that he preferred policy work to historical research.

Makovsky's first job was at the U.S. State Department, where he analyzed developments in Turkey and the Eastern Mediterranean for the department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research (an in-house think tank). He later worked at the Washington Institute, at first focusing on Arab-Israeli issues and then writing frequently about the emergence of Islamism in Turkey and the clash between Islamists and secularists. His work at the Institute overlapped for roughly two years with David's.

Keeping Connected to Home

Alan Makovsky said that although he lives in Washington, "St. Louis remains my spiritual home." David returns home to give lectures about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at St. Louis-area universities. And Michael jokes that he still has a St. Louis-centric mindset. The Bipartisan Policy Center's logo is red and blue and is supposed to evoke the Capitol Dome. "When I first saw it, though, it just reminded me of the Arch, or even the mini-Arches that were part of the top of the old Busch Stadium."

Cardinals baseball keeps the Makovskys connected to St. Louis throughout the year. They watch their team on television, listen to radio broadcasts and go to games as visiting fans when the Cardinals play the Washington Nationals in D.C.

"When I'm not fretting about Iranian nuclear ambitions or the future of Egypt, I focus my worries on whether the Cards can resign Albert and close the emerging talent gap with the hated Reds," Alan said in an e-mail. "Baseball is the world's most absorbing distraction."

Alan has seen his share of landmark Cardinals games over the years — Stan Musial's last home run and his last game, pennant-winning and World Series games in 1964, the World Series-clinching game 5 in 2006 and Albert Pujols' 400th home run last summer in Washington.

David took his son to the 2004 and 2006 World Series. He is eager to show visitors to his office the photo of Albert Pujols that appears whenever he clicks on his customized Google page. "I live for the baseball season," he said.

Michael has two photos hanging in his study. One is of Winston Churchill, the subject of his book "Churchill's Promised Land: Zionism and Statecraft." The other is a signed picture of another vaunted leader — “ former Cardinals manager Whitey Herzog.