salai meridor 298.88.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
After four and a half years in our most important diplomatic post abroad, Israeli ambassador to the US Danny Ayalon is stepping down, to be replaced by former Jewish Agency chairman Sallai Meridor. What is remarkable about this transition, assuming it goes ahead smoothly as announced, is just that: a smooth transition between two competent representatives of Jerusalem in Washington.
We recall that Ayalon himself was only appointed after the office remained vacant for months with the departure of David Ivry. Prime minister Ariel Sharon and foreign minister Shimon Peres could not agree on a candidate, leading to the embarrassing vacancy.
This time, it seems, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni worked quietly and in tandem to produce a "normal" transition, though it is unfortunately more the exception than the rule.
It is also refreshing that the qualifications and skills of both the outgoing and incoming ambassadors are appropriate, unlike some other diplomatic appointments in the recent and not-so recent past that have not met basic standards of language competency or relevant experience.
Ayalon came to his post from a career in the foreign service and as foreign policy adviser in the Prime Minister's Office. Accordingly, he had the ear of both the prime minister and the foreign minister, though the latter relationship turned into a messy fight under the Foreign Ministry of Silvan Shalom. Tellingly, Ayalon served effectively under ministers before and since from different parties.
The first ambassador to serve since 9/11, Ayalon's time in Washington has seen the relationship with the United States deepened. There were spats and disagreements, but overall it was refreshing to have an embassy that enjoyed good relations with the principals in Washington and Jerusalem, that was not routinely bypassed by those capitals, and that functioned as an Israeli voice to the American people.
Meridor, whose experience leading the Jewish Agency makes him no stranger to America, has an opportunity to build on this legacy. As close as relations are between our two countries, there is still ample room to further tighten this critical alliance.
This is especially true in the wake of the second Lebanese war. If any proof was necessary, that war demonstrated that the "Arab-Israeli conflict" is not some isolated regional spat, but an integral front of the jihad against the West.
Some react to this realization, of course, by advocating that the West distance itself from Israel. But just as it is absurd to argue that America was attacked because it was acting belligerently in the world, it is risible to claim that the jihadis would be sated by Israel's destruction, let alone by this or that change in policy or territorial concession.
Despite this, for decades US policy toward the region has built on conflicting propositions: that the US is an ally of Israel, but an "honest broker" when it comes to fostering peace between Israel and the Arab world. This stance means that every criticism or demand of one side must be balanced by one against the other - producing a strained attempt to press Palestinians on terrorism and Israelis on settlements.
Such an approach would be outdated even if Israel had not been committed to abandoning most settlements and creating a Palestinian state in their stead for at least six years, since the 2000 Camp David summit. Instead, the US should drop even the pretense of evenhandedness between Israel and those seeking our destruction, just as it would never attempt to balance the UK, Spain, or itself with the terrorists from al-Qaida.
Just as the root cause of the jihad against America is not this or that American policy, the root cause of the jihad against Israel is not this or that Israeli settlement. This is not to say that the US should be expected to encourage settlements. Rather, Washington should be saying that peace depends not on Israel - if that were the case, it would have long since been achieved - but on the Arab states and the Palestinians abandoning the quest to destroy Israel.
A principal task for our next ambassador should be to work tirelessly to achieve this basic shift in American policy. There could be no better time to press this message than just after Israel has fought a war against an Iranian division called Hizbullah, unmasking the Hamas-Hizbullah-Syria-Iran axis bent our destruction.
Our enemies regard us as one; it is time that we acted as one as we confront the single jihad being waged against us.