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Foreign Ministry officials raised concerns Monday that the likely appointment of Haim Ramon to the position of vice premier in charge of negotiations with the Palestinians, alongside a number of other institutional changes currently being considered, could take large chunks out of the Foreign Ministry's authority.
Ramon has been appointed a cabinet minister with diplomatic responsibilities while the committee to implement the Winograd Committee's interim report - set up by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and led by former chief of staff Amnon Lipkin-Shahak - was expected to recommend that the National Security Council's role be widely expanded, a move also expected to take bites out of areas that should be the Foreign Ministry's purview.
In addition, outgoing cabinet secretary Yisrael Maimon has put forth a proposal whereby the overall responsibility for coordinating Israel's public message would be given to the Prime Minister's Office. This proposal, which is moving forward, would take another degree of responsibility for Israel's public affairs away from the Foreign Ministry.
Ehud Barak's appointment as defense minister has also increased concerns among some in the Foreign Ministry that he, too, would begin to dabble in diplomacy. Barak's predecessor, Amir Peretz, made diplomatic pronouncements, but diplomatic officials said that few in the international arena took them seriously. The same would unlikely be the case were Barak to start coming out with similar pronouncements, they said.
Foreign Ministry sources said that these developments were taking place despite recommendations in the Winograd Committee's interim report that called for Foreign Ministry officials to be more involved when the country's policy decisions were being made.
Sources close to Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said she was not overly concerned about this trend of removing various items from the Foreign Ministry's menu because it was nothing new.
The sources pointed out that Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz had been given responsibility for the strategic dialogue with the US last year, Avigdor Lieberman had joined the government as strategic affairs minister with responsibility for Iran, and former vice premier Shimon Peres had spent the last year and a half traveling the world advocating diplomatic policy.
In other news, attempts to find a new ambassador to replace the highly regarded Shimon Stein in Berlin failed this week, when the Foreign Ministry's appointments committee failed to agree on a candidate.
Stein has been Israel's envoy to Germany since 2001, and has already had his tenure extended. The general term for an ambassador to Germany is four years, with a possible one-year extension.
While the committee could not agree on an envoy to Berlin, it did appoint Motti Cohen as Israel's new ambassador to El Salvador, and Eyal Sela as the new envoy to Ecuador.
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