Denying any bad blood with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Foreign Ministry Director-General Dore Gold unexpectedly resigned on Thursday, citing “personal reasons” for his decision to leave his job immediately as the country's top diplomat just 15 months after taking over the position.
Gold is the second top foreign policy official around Netanyahu to opt out of office in less than three months because of “personal reasons.” Yaakov Nagel, the acting head of the National Security Council, turned down an appointment to head the organization in August, also citing personal reasons.
Netanyahu thanked Gold, who has served at his side in various capacities for some 25 years, for his dedicated service. He quickly named veteran diplomat Yuval Rotem as Gold's replacement.
Rotem, a former ambassador to Australia, is currently the ministry's deputy director-general for public diplomacy. He served as Netanyahu's chief of staff in the ministry when Netanyahu – who was then prime minister – held the foreign minister's portfolio for 10 months in 1998.
On Thursday afternoon, just hours after announcing his resignation, Gold sat down with The Jerusalem Post
in his office in the Foreign Ministry that had already been cleared of its content, save the desk, table and chairs. Gold dismissed any suggestion that his resignation had to do either with disagreements with Netanyahu, or frustration that Netanyahu's top envoy Yitzhak Molcho, or his new deputy minister for public diplomacy Michael Oren, had cut into his responsibilities.
“I have worked with Molcho for many years and accept that he is a very skilled diplomat,” Gold said, noting that Molcho works widely in the Arab world. “I have always enjoyed my time with him.”
Regarding Oren, Gold said he knows him from Columbia University where they were both students in 1970s, and they would go over Arabic flashcards together in a fraternity. “I never felt that he was taking my thunder,” Gold said.
Gold, 62, with two children and two grandchildren, said he wanted to devote more of his time to his family. “I have a family, and have to give them time,” he said. “I have personal obligations, but I am not planning to retire to a rocking chair in Kansas.”
He said he will return to the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and once again take up the position there as the think tank’s president. “I've learned how important that institutions like that can be if used correctly,” he said, noting that his highly publicized connection with former Saudi General Anwar Eshki of Saudi Arabia was developed when he was at the think tank, not in the foreign ministry.
Asked about the current situation in the Foreign Ministry, where morale is low because much of the organization's authority and responsibilities have been bitten off by other ministries, Gold recalled that in 1974 – at a time when the eloquent Abba Eban was foreign minister – public diplomacy was taken from the ministry and given to a newly formed Hasbara Ministry.
“My point is that for years there have been cases where certain responsibilities have been taken away and given to others, who tried their hand at it, and then it was given back,” he said. “The best way to handle this is not to get in fights it the newspapers, but to do good work.”
“There is no replacement for the foreign ministry, and for embassies around the world, and the knowledge that is based in this building,” Gold said. “What we do need are resources. The ministry tends to be underfunded.”
Gold said that rather than “folding up the flag” in Israeli representations abroad to save money, “the country needs to open new embassies in Africa.”
He added that part of the ministry's problem was that it was underappreciated in Israel, and for that reason ministry workers did not enjoy the same conditions as workers in the security agencies.
“When facing officials in the Finance Ministry, they often look at Foreign Ministry workers as people who go to cocktail parties and leak information,” he said. “The reputation of the ministry within the system has been weakened. I tried to associate the foreign ministry with significant activities that people can appreciate.” One example he cited was the logistics behind the recent massive funeral for Shimon Peres.
Asked whether after more than a year in the job, he felt that Israel needed a full time foreign minister, rather than a prime minister who also acts as foreign minister. Gold replied that if David Ben-Gurion, Yitzhak Rabin and Ehud Barak could all act simultaneously as prime minister and defense ministers – a job that is more taxing than that of foreign minister – then there is no reason why the premier can also not be the foreign minister.
Gold did not utter a single negative word about Netanyahu during the interview. He said that when he was appointed to the job in June 2015 he was being mobilized in an “emergency call up.”
“I felt that I could make an important contribution,” he said. “I felt we accomplished a great deal while I was here.”
Gold said that he “very much” identifies with Netanyahu's foreign policy goals, naming two of them as the top priorities: developing discreet ties with the Sunni Arab world, and prioritizing the relations with Africa.
Regarding the Arab world, Gold said there was a “window of opportunity” with the Sunni countries because of shared concerns about Iran and Jihad organizations such as Islamic State. In addition, he said, Israeli technology is held in very high regard in these states.
“The question is how can we exploit the moment to build new relationships,” he asked. While in the past the expectation was that contacts with the Arab world could not be moved forward until there was a full resolution of the Palestinians issue, now there is a realization that “there are many areas of cooperation we can develop even if we don't reach a full final status agreement at the present time.”
While an exchange of diplomats with nations of the Arab world will still require considerable progress on the Palestinian track, “the challenge is coming up with patterns of cooperation we can develop.”
During his tenure, Gold spent a great deal of his time looking for ways to develop those areas of cooperation.
He was also key in pushing Netanyahu's pivot toward Africa. Netanyahu, he said, has “prioritized our relations with Africa, and I embrace that goal and have worked very closely with African foreign ministers directly.”
In addition to paving the way for renewed diplomatic ties with Guinea, he also visited Chad and other countries in Sub-Saharan Africa with whom Israel does not have ties in order to begin a dialogue.
He also traveled to South Africa, and in addition met that country's' foreign ministry last month in the UN in an attempt to lessen Pretoria’s opposition to the inroads Israel is making into Africa.
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