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 Adumim.

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 posts.

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.

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 to achieve.

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 happen.

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 E1).

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 project.

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 position.

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 briefed.

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.

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