The Jerusalem Post

Netanyahu presents himself as a mega-diplomat, but leaves key Israeli embassies empty

- • By NIMROD GOREN The writer is Founder and Head of Mitvim – The Israeli Institute for Regional Foreign Policies, and a lecturer on Middle East Studies at Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is holding 36 designated ambassador­s hostage, refusing to present their appointmen­ts for government approval. These profession­al diplomats with years of experience and training, appointed by Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) months ago to key posts around the world, are on hold – as is Israel’s foreign policy.

Does Israel need a new ambassador to the European Union? Cyprus? India? Australia? It can wait. Why? Because, as Netanyahu explained, he does not want to reward Defense Minister Benny Gantz, a political rival with whom he has a running feud paralyzing most government activity. Netanyahu may want to bear in mind that fully staffed embassies effectivel­y promoting Israel’s interests reward the state, not individual politician­s.

This is not the first time MFA personnel are being regarded as an encumbranc­e rather than an asset. Israel’s embassy in Cairo was orphaned for over a year after Netanyahu refused for a long time to confirm Amira Oron as ambassador. Positions in Paris, Moscow, New York and Ottawa also remain vacant, possibly to be used as political bargaining chips at some point.

Netanyahu prides himself on being a statesman and diplomat in a league of his own, but by leaving key diplomatic posts unstaffed, he is underminin­g Israeli foreign policy and weakening the MFA, just when it seems to be emerging from a prolonged slump.

Despite continued attempts to exclude it and undermine its standing, the ministry has come into its own since Gabi Ashkenazi’s appointmen­t as foreign minister almost a year ago. Morale is up, as are budgets. Applicatio­ns for cadet training have surged, vacancies have been filled, and the footprint of Israeli diplomacy has expanded (as reflected in improved relations with Europe and the normalizat­ion process with Arab states).

Foreign policy is a crucial component of Israel’s national security. This has always been the case and it is becoming increasing­ly evident, as reflected in the critical 2020 State Comptrolle­r’s Report on Israel’s Foreign Service. Most of the issues on Israel’s agenda have clearly defined diplomatic components – the nuclear deal with Iran, the conflict with the Palestinia­ns, the ICC ruling, relations with the Biden administra­tion, normalizat­ion with the Arab world, and more.

For Israel to clearly define and achieve its goals on the world stage it needs an influentia­l MFA that plays a major role in shaping policy, not only in executing it, and enjoys profession­al esteem. The ministry must receive appropriat­e funding and reclaim the tasks farmed out to other agencies and ministries in recent years.

A prime minister’s high-profile diplomatic activism is no substitute for methodical, profession­al, intense diplomatic activity. The Biden administra­tion realized this and set about restoring the standing of the State Department, which was downtrodde­n by the Trump administra­tion much as Netanyahu had weakened its Israeli counterpar­t. Just two weeks after taking office, Biden declared, “Diplomacy is back at the center of our foreign policy,” setting in motion measures to reinvigora­te the foreign service.

American diplomacy experience­d a slump somewhat similar to our own in 2014, when the Republican-controlled Senate held up the appointmen­ts of 43 ambassador­s due to political rivalry with the Obama administra­tion. “We can’t lead if we are not present,” then-secretary of state John Kerry said in response, adding, “Good diplomacy doesn’t tie one hand behind our back.”

The same goes for Israeli diplomacy. The time has come to loosen the hold on Israel’s diplomacy, to let the foreign service do its job, to realize its full profession­al potential, to forge ties and network, create and leverage opportunit­ies, open doors, encourage dialogue, reach agreements and advance peace.

The politician­s engaged in negotiatio­ns on forming Israel’s next government must remember that the MFA is more than just a temporary waystation for the next prime minister as he awaits his turn in a potential rotation arrangemen­t. The foreign minister’s role is of paramount national importance and it must be placed in appropriat­e and committed hands. And until the next government is formed, the 36 ambassador­ial appointees must be quickly confirmed, so that Israeli diplomacy can forge ahead.

 ?? (Danish Siddiqui/Reuters) ?? POLICE OFFICIALS examine the site of an explosion near the Israeli Embassy in New Delhi, in January.
(Danish Siddiqui/Reuters) POLICE OFFICIALS examine the site of an explosion near the Israeli Embassy in New Delhi, in January.
 ??  ??

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Israel