Vilna'i on way to becoming next envoy to China

If approved as expected, Vilna'i would be replaced in the Knesset by former MK who makes deal to leave Labor for Independence.

By GIL STERN STERN HOFFMAN
February 7, 2012 23:37
2 minute read.
Matan Vilnai

Matan Vilnai 311. (photo credit: Yaakov Katz)

Homeland Defense Minister Matan Vilna’i (Independence) is expected to be named the next ambassador to China, following an interview he had on Tuesday with the Civil Service Commission.

Vilna’i’s appearance before the commission is necessary because he would be a political appointment, not a professional one from the Foreign Ministry, and all ambassadorial candidates who are political appointees must be first vetted by the Civil Services Commission.

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If Vilna’i is approved, as is probable, his appointment will come to the cabinet for its approval, something expected within a matter of weeks.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, currently visiting Washington, issued a statement explaining that he chose Vilna’i for this post because China was an important country with which Israel was interested in establishing closer ties, and that it was suitable that Israel be represented there by someone “at the highest level.”

“I am convinced that Vilna’i, who served as a government minister and was a senior IDF officer, will fill this position in the best way possible and will put an emphasis on developing the relations between the two countries,” Lieberman said.

Vilna’i will be the second ambassador to China coming directly from around the cabinet table: Ora Namir, who was minister of labor and social welfare, left that post to become ambassador to China in 1996.

Vilnai’s appointment received mixed reviews inside the Foreign Ministry, where political appointments for such highly sought-after positions – rather than taking some from inside the ranks of the ministry – are generally frowned upon.

While one official said that Vilna’i would be able to push through projects with China by virtue of the fact that he is so close to the country’s leading decision-makers, another said that he did not have a track record in diplomacy or any particular understanding of China to make him suitable for the post.

The foreign minister is allowed 11 political appointments, and Lieberman has so far used up six of them, naming political appointments to the embassies in Washington, Moscow, Sofia, Kiev and Minsk, and to the consulate in Boston.

If approved, Vilna’i would be replaced in the Knesset by former MK Shakib Shanan on the Labor list. The Independence Party announced Tuesday that it had worked out a deal with Shanan, whereby he would break off from Labor in order to join Independence. Five then- Labor MKs, including Vilna’i, broke off from Labor to form Independence in January 2011.

Shanan is Druse and lives in Hurfeish in the Upper Galilee.

Defense Minister and Independence Party chairman Ehud Barak on Tuesday released a statement praising Shanan and welcoming him to the Knesset.

“Shakib Shanan is a serious person, I know him well, and I have no doubt that he will contribute a lot to the Independence Party,” Barak said.

The Labor Party condemned Shanan and Barak, accusing them of playing political tricks. “They are a pair that go together,” a Labor representative said. “Labor continues to rid itself of opportunistic hacks and by doing so strengthens itself as a party that is ideological and clean.”


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