Israeli ambassadors from around the world were in Jerusalem this week for their
annual end-of-year meeting.
It is a time for diplomats to swap
experiences with peers, meet with top government officials and get caught up on
internal Foreign Ministry politics. But it is also an opportunity to voice
constructive criticism on burning foreign policy issues.
And that is
precisely what several ambassadors did Monday during a meeting with National
Security Council head Yaakov Amidror.
A few envoys expressed frustration
that they were not properly prepared for the government’s announcement at the
end of November of new housing construction beyond the Green Line and interim
development plans in the area known as E1, between Jerusalem and Ma’aleh
The announcement on E1 came immediately after the Palestinian
Authority’s successful bid on November 29 at the UN General Assembly to upgrade
its status to “nonmember state,” and exposed the ambassadors to a flood of harsh
criticism in their respective host countries.
Unfortunately, instead of
relating directly to the envoys’ legitimate and pertinent criticisms, expressed
in a closed conference, Amidror admonished the ambassadors for daring to
question the government’s foreign policy decisions, and advised them that they
should either faithfully represent Israel’s positions or resign from their
Apparently, Amidror misunderstood the diplomats’ intentions. They
were not questioning the decision to announce development plans in E1, they were
articulating frustration with the fact that they were not properly prepared to
represent government policies abroad.
As one diplomatic official told The
Jerusalem Post’s Herb Keinon after the exchange, Amidror’s irritated response to
questions from the ambassadors was representative of a government attitude that
does not put a premium on explaining policy to those who must represent
It is unclear whether the feeling expressed by this particular
official is pervasive among diplomats serving abroad tasked with the difficult
job of explaining the E1 announcement to foreign officials who are skeptical, if
not downright antagonistic, of Israeli settlement policies.
It is clear,
however, that at least a few envoys feel they were not properly briefed on the
reason for the E1 decision, its timing and the objectives the move was supposed
In fact, in the weeks and days ahead of the UN vote,
ambassadors were receiving signals from the Foreign Ministry that Israel’s
reaction would be muted. The announcement on building that was made after the UN
bid was precisely the sort of reaction that was not supposed to
The Foreign Ministry had said that it had no interest in
deflecting international attention from one issue (the Palestinians’ decision to
resort to unilateral measures and therefore abrogate the Oslo Accords) to
another (a controversial announcement that Israel would be building in
Then, against the advice of the Foreign Ministry and less than 24
hours after the UN vote, the Prime Minister’s Office, in a move that gave the
impression of a hastily planned and hastily executed decision, announced the
plan to move ahead with the long-stalled E1 building
Understandably, the ambassadors were frustrated, not necessarily
because they disagreed with the logic of E1 as a reaction to the Palestinian UN
bid, but because they were not briefed in advance on how best to defend a move
that drew intense international condemnation and put them in an uncomfortable
As public servants who have devoted many years to the
diplomatic corps, ambassadors are trained to defend and explain Israeli policies
regardless of their personal convictions. The do not expect to be a part of the
decision-making process. But they do expect to be properly forewarned and
Ambassadors voicing legitimate, pertinent criticism in closed
forums should not be silenced. Doing so prevents improvement and can deepen
envoys’ feelings of frustration.
The government should work with
diplomats to better equip them to serve. After all, they are the frontline foot
soldiers in the war for the hearts and minds of the world’s leaders.