Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan ended months of speculation about whether he would accept an offer to become ambassador to the UN when he announced on Tuesday that he had decided to remain at his ministry.
Erdan thanked Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman for showing confidence in him by offering him the post. He said that he thought long and hard about taking the UN ambassadorship, but he instead decided to continue what he called revolutions in recycling, composting, decreasing air pollution, and developing metropolitan parks around the country.
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“It would have been an honor to represent Israel at the UN,” Erdan said at an environmental business conference at Netanya’s Island Hotel. “We are facing a serious challenge there in our public diplomacy. I had a difficult time deciding. But in the end, I decided to follow my conscience. The environmental revolution is the most important thing for me, and I want to complete all the reforms I initiated and help Israel become more green.”
Erdan’s decision came at a time when polls find him to be one of the Likud’s most popular cabinet members, which could result in him landing a plum portfolio in the next government.
He would have had to sit out the next election had he taken the UN post.
Sources close to Erdan said Netanyahu wanted him to stay in Israel, where in addition to his role as environment minister, he also serves as the cabinet’s representative to the Knesset and as one of the prime minister’s top defenders. But they said Netanyahu made it clear to Erdan that it was his decision.
“As a former UN ambassador, [I say] Erdan could have been a terrific ambassador, but I respect his decision to remain environment minister and continue the important work he has been doing,” the prime minister said.
Netanyahu vowed to help Erdan advance his environmental agenda and keep it a top priority of his government.
The prime minister and foreign minister are expected to discuss the fate of the UN ambassadorship in upcoming days. Until a decision is made, career diplomat Meron Reuben will remain in the post on a temporary basis.
Officials close to Netanyahu speculated that he might decide not to appoint an ambassador until closer to the annual UN General Assembly session in September.
Netanyahu and Lieberman have had difficulty in agreeing on who to choose for the post.
The State Attorney’s Office intends to decide by the end of the month whether to indict Lieberman, and though he has said he would not quit his post until after a hearing several months later, Lieberman would certainly be weakened by an indictment, which could give Netanyahu more leverage against him.
Netanyahu in the past wanted to return former ambassador to the UN Dore Gold to the post. Other names that have been mentioned include current ambassador to the United Kingdom Ron Prosor and former ambassador to the US Zalman Shoval.
There are also former diplomats who see themselves as candidates for the post and have been lobbying for it, including Eli Avidar, who was a diplomatic adviser to prime minister Ariel Sharon and headed the diplomatic representative office in Qatar, and Yitzhak Ben-Gad, a former consul-general in Chicago and Miami.
Environmental organizations praised Erdan for staying at the ministry.
Amit Bracha, director-general of the Israel Union for Environmental Defense (Adam, Teva, V’din), said Erdan’s decision testifies to his commitment to defending the environment in Israel and internationally. He said this was especially important due to the many environment challenges Israel currently faces.
The Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel expressed hope that Erdan would continue to fight to maintain beaches and free access to nature sites.