Dr. Cohen founded the Institute for Middle East Peace and Development in 1979 to serve as facilitator and private intermediary in peace-making and peace-building and has served as its President ever since. He is the National Scholar of Israel Policy Forum and in the last years he has been a visiting professor at Princeton University and Lehigh University.
Dr. Cohen began his professional career as a professor at Harvard University where he had earned his Ph.D. in Social Psychology and initiated the first problem-solving workshops of Israelis and Palestinians. The unique seminar, co-taught with Herbert C. Kelman, on Social Psychological Approaches to International Relations launched Cohen's integration of his work in small group interaction (he had published a major scholarly book in the field) with his deep involvement in the evolving history of Israel and the resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
As a Lady Davis Fellow at the Hebrew University and Visiting Professor in the 1970's, Dr. Cohen was able to become one of the first to lecture in Egypt on the potential for peace with Israel and to serve as a behind-the-scenes confidant of Israel's Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan and President Sadat in the launching of the peace process. He set up the first meetings between Shimon Peres and Anwar Sadat and between Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres and Abba Eban with the leaders of the Egyptian National Democratic Party. These meetings were the initiation of Shimon Peres and Yossi Beilin as pioneers in peace efforts of Israel and the engagement of Osama El Baz as premier peace theoretician and political advisor of Egypt and the Arab world. During the autonomy talks Dayan and Boutros Boutros Ghali, then Acting Foreign Minister of Egypt and later Secretary General of the United Nations, encouraged Dr. Cohen to create an American-based institution as a venue of confidential Israeli-Palestinian and Israeli-Arab dialogue and other peace efforts.
With the assistance of Cyrus Vance, then United States Secretary of State, the Institute was created at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York in 1979. It projects were supported by American Jewish leading business and communal figures, Arab Americans, and financial support from grants from the Ford Foundation, Rockefeller Foundation, the Agency for International Development, and private philanthropists. It is now a registered charity in Canada and a 501(c) 3 in the United States.
The Institute created the first group of Arab and Jewish businessmen cooperating on peace and economic development of the West Bank and Gaza. It was the first to bring major social scientists from Israel, Egypt and the Palestinians into joint research on their conflict. Dr. Cohen created the first secret official negotiations between Israel and the PLO years before Oslo under the supervision of Chairman Arafat and Shimon Peres, and launching the premier intermediaries of Israeli Prime Ministers and Arafat until the collapse of the peace process into the second intifada. Together with a Syrian American colleague, he has been in confidential, off-the-record discussions with Syria's top leadership from pre-Madrid days with President Hafez al Assad and through the Presidency of his successor and son Bashaar Al Assad. He is also a senior member of the United States group led by Ambassador Edward Djerejian engaged in off-the-record US/ Syria dialogue.
Dr. Cohen has developed close relations with Israeli leaders from all parties, Labor and Likud, religious and secular, and with Arab heads of state, foreign ministers, and leading figures in almost every state in the Arab world including the deceased leaders, King Hussein, King Hassan and President Assad as well as the current leader of Egypt President Mubarak, and the new successors of key states such as Lebanon, Syria, Algeria, Yemen and the Gulf States.
Over the years, Dr. Cohen has worked with some of the leading figures in Jewish Life. He was the founding president of the Foundations of Charles Bronfman. He was the first President of S. Daniel Abraham's Center for Middle East Peace and Economic Cooperation. He was a partner with Lester Crown and Robert Lifton in the New Middle East LLC. Lester Crown was also Co-Chair of the Businessman for Middle East Peace and Development created by Steve Cohen.
Dr. Cohen is a widely quoted Middle East expert in the New York Times and other publications. He comments regularly on Middle East affairs on radio, television and in newspapers. He has spoken often in meetings of the General Assembly of the Jewish Federations and other Jewish audiences, in Arab meetings and in key venues of discussion of Middle East affairs such as the Council on Foreign Relations. His advice and counsel are sought by government and foreign policy leaders in the United States, Israel and many other countries.
Dr. Cohen is currently National Scholar at Israel Policy Forum, a non-profit organization whose mission is to promote the Middle East peace process in order to strengthen Israeli security and further U.S. foreign policy interests in the region. Every week on Friday afternoon for the last three and a half years he has addressed topical issues via a community conference call, which attracts up to 100 leaders weekly. He recently authored "The Foundations for a Future Peace (ten basic principles for peace making efforts that have been developed within Israel Policy Forum's Study Group)" based on interviews with over one hundred Arab, Israeli and American participants in and critics of the Oslo peace process. Due to the secret nature of much of his work over the past many years, Stephen Cohen could not publish articles that reflected the substance of his efforts. However, behind-the-scenes, he has assisted various leaders in the United States, Israel and Egypt in preparing major policy position papers and public addresses.
In the last years, Professor Cohen has felt it very important to return to the university classroom, where debate on the Middle East has been raging. In the fall semester of 2001, He taught a Graduate Seminar in the Department of Middle East Studies at Princeton in " Conflict Resolution Approaches to Middle East Wars and Internal Wars." In the spring semester of 2003, he taught two undergraduate courses at Lehigh University: " Arab-Israeli Conflict and Peace-making" and "The United States and the Middle East." He has a unique contribution to make in shaping the way that the next generation of young people understands the history, cultural development and education of the peoples and societies of the Middle East. He strives to influence the university students of today in order to prepare them grapple with the enormous challenges of peace making and conflict resolution that are urgently needed to ensure a future of safety and security.
Stephen P. Cohen is married to Elaine R. Shizgal Cohen, Head of School of the Solomon Schechter Day Schools of Essex and Union County of New Jersey. They have three grown daughters, Tamara, Rabbi Ayelet and Maya.