Ties between the United States and Israel are ‘strained’ as new envoys Herzog and Nides take office

WASHINGTON – Last week, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted to advance the nomination of Thomas Nides as the next ambassador to Israel. With a vote on the floor expected in the coming weeks, Nides’s arrival, once approved, will end a 10-month period without a permanent ambassador in Jerusalem.
Meanwhile, in Israel, Ambassador Mike Herzog is scheduled to leave for Washington in the first half of November to replace Gilad Erdan, who will nonetheless remain Israel’s ambassador to the UN.

The Nides-Herzog exchange comes on the heels of public tension between Washington and Jerusalem over the past week. It began on Friday, when the State Department said it had not been informed about the Israeli designation of six Palestinian NGOs as terrorist groups. Israel insisted that such an update was indeed communicated prior to the announcement. Later, the administration also publicly criticized the Israeli government for approving some 3,000 homes in the West Bank. Secretary of State Antony Blinken also reportedly called Defense Minister Benny Gantz to protest the decision.

And while the two new ambassadors will have to grapple with these issues, their hands will be full of additional challenges, from the Palestinian consulate controversy to low-key talks about Iran and its nuclear program, and, of course, the visa waiver program, a theme. that remains a priority for Israel.

“It is clearly a tense moment in the relationship between Jerusalem and Washington, and both ambassadors have an important role. [to play] to ease these tensions, ”says Danny Ayalon, former Israeli ambassador to Washington and former deputy foreign minister.

Ambassador Mike Herzog (credit: Dan Kitri)

He said that the role of an ambassador is to manage expectations between Jerusalem and Washington, so even if both sides disagree on a particular issue, there is a clear understanding of what would be considered mere disagreement and what could cause a problem. diplomatic crisis.

“With better communication, some of these tensions could have been avoided. The role of an ambassador is to have a direct channel of communication with the host country and keep disagreements in the room, “added Ayalon.

It is very important to have a permanent ambassador who has the attention of the president or prime minister, Ayalon added. “When a certain ambassador in Washington is known to be close to the leader of his country, the White House definitely takes him more seriously, and that will be to Herzog’s advantage,” says Ayalon.

The fact that both ambassadors take office at about the same time will have a direct influence on the dialogue between the United States and Israel, Ayalon noted. “There is a false theory that today world leaders can use Zoom or a secure line, so ambassadors are not that important. Of course, that is not true. An effective ambassador is the eyes, ears and mouth of the government in Washington. “

He said that the president and prime minister cannot talk every day, and therefore the ambassador is the one doing the diplomatic work.

“Before the leaders speak on the phone, the ambassador is the one who prepares the Prime Minister. I remember doing ‘mock conversations’ with Ariel Sharon before a phone call with the president [George] Bush or Secretary of State [Condoleezza] Rice.”

Michael Oren, who served as ambassador to Washington and later as deputy foreign minister, said that 90% of foreign relations are based on personal ties. “Regarding the selection of these two men, I think the two countries have worked. I really do, I think they are two great options, “he said.

Oren said the two governments are still going to face serious challenges, but the most important principle to restore is the “no daylight” principle.

“This is a principle that we had for many years, but then we lost it,” Oren said. “We are going to have differences. They won’t like our settlement policy. They won’t like our Jerusalem policy. We are not going to like your Jerusalem policy. But to the greatest extent possible, we will try to keep these differences between us and keep quiet behind closed doors. “

What that does, Oren said, “doesn’t just deprive our enemy of a chance to enjoy. Give a diplomatic break; if they’re not hitting each other publicly, then privately they have a lot more maneuverability. “

“They are going to have problems to deal with, like the settlements and the consulate in Jerusalem, which are potentially very disruptive. At least part of the Israeli government and the Democratic Party, the administration, are in disagreement on this issue, “he continued. But the big problem is Iran. And here’s the catch: The United States can coexist with a threshold-capacity Iran. Israel cannot. “

He said he believed that Herzog is the right man for the job at the moment, “because he is not a public ambassador, but he is a behind-the-scenes negotiator, and we have to negotiate various issues that are essential for the security and future of Israel.” . “

Speaking about Nides, Oren noted that the ambassador’s identity card reads, “extraordinary and plenipotentiary,” that is, he formally represents his head of state with full authority.

Michael Koplow, policy director at the Israel Policy Forum, said Nides and Herzog will have to manage routine discussions between the United States and Israel about Iran’s nuclear program to make sure everyone is coordinated and there are no surprises from any of the parts. , “And they will also have to be the day-to-day managers on the clear emerging differences between the Biden administration and the Bennett administration in Israeli-Palestinian politics.”

“While Iran is more the province of defense and security establishments, Nides and Herzog will have to close the gaps in disagreements on issues such as the construction of settlements and the reopening of the Jerusalem consulate,” he said.

“The consulate, in particular, is something Nides will have to grapple with on the first day, from whether or not it will reopen, to how to handle the Palestinian Affairs Unit, to how to interact with the Palestinian Authority in the event that the consulate. delayed or abandoned “.

He estimated that Nides and Herzog “will help defuse tensions because they both know their host country well, have years of relationships and contacts to build on, and both are diplomatic in their presentation and behavior.”

“There will also be no question that each speaks for their respective boss, and the combination of authority and experience will undoubtedly lead to less tension and greater clarity between the two parties,” Koplow added.


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