Dodds Auditorium was packed last November when professors Daniel Kurtzer and Amaney Jamal gave presentations on the prospects for peace between Israel and Palestine. The dictators in Egypt and Libya were gone, the uprising in Syria still growing. Attention turned to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit recently had been released from Hamas captivity, Fatah had failed in its United Nations bid for statehood, and Hamas and Fatah were holding talks on reconciliation. What next?

Kurtzer — the former U.S. ambassador to both Egypt and Israel — spoke first. He told his students that they were required to stay only for the first 15 seconds of his talk, as that’s all the time it would take to sum up the situation. Then he played 15 seconds of a famous Monty Python “Silly Olympics” sketch: the 100-meter dash for people with no sense of direction. The runners line up. They jump up and down, stretch, and make all sorts of preparations. A gun starts the race and the runners take off — going forward, backward, in circles. 

Kurtzer is one of two former U.S. ambassadors on the Woodrow Wilson School faculty, along with Barbara Bodine, former ambassador to Yemen. They bring their practitioners’ skills to the ivory tower — both the inside knowledge gained over years in the Foreign Service, and a knack for expressing themselves with clarity and humor. One might think that an ambassador to the Middle East would have to be an optimist, and as Griff Witte ’00 writes in his profile of Kurtzer on page 24, he is. But neither he nor Jamal expected to see much progress soon. And by March, it seemed clear they were right: The eyes that once focused on Israel and Palestine had moved on, to Iran.