Reality Check: Between Binyamin and Avigdor

Whose stance will the new ambassador to the UN and the consul-general to New York be representing, the prime minister’s or the FM's?

By
February 27, 2011 23:44
4 minute read.
Jeff Barak

Jeff Barak headshot 58. (photo credit: Courtesy)

 
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For all his troublemaking, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman sometimes does get it right when it comes to making appointments.

His decision to appoint Ron Prosor as ambassador to the UN, approved at the end of last week, finally means the country will have one of its most talented diplomats in this sensitive and demanding job.

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Prosor is no stranger to hostile environments.

As ambassador to the UK for the past four years, he has been at the forefront of opposing the growing European trend to delegitimize Israel.

Polite and polished, while also forceful and unapologetic, this former Foreign Ministry director-general will bring some much-needed stature to our UN delegation.

As the recent Security Council resolution condemning settlement policy showed, our status at the UN is becoming more and more difficult.

The resolution had almost 120 cosponsors, and Jerusalem had to rely on Washington’s reluctant veto to nullify the vote of the other 14 council members in favor of declaring settlements illegal.



Although the Palestinians were ultimately unsuccessful, it’s clear that international sympathy lies with them and that this vote lays the diplomatic foundation for a unilateral Palestinian move to receive UN backing for an independent state later this year, despite Israeli and American opposition. As Lieberman correctly understands, this is not the time to be sending an amateur to represent us.

And in another recent appointment, Lieberman continued to buck the trend of posting a political hack or a no-longer-wanted senior aide to a plum position, and filled the vacant consul-general post in New York with Ido Aharoni, former head of the Brand Israel team at the Foreign Ministry.

Aharoni is the perfect man for the job: His English is fluent, he performs well on television and with two previous US postings behind him, including one as the consulate’s spokesman, he understands the American public and knows how to calibrate his message to meet American media needs.

Although the ambassador to Washington is seen as the country’s senior diplomat in the US, it’s the consul-general who sets the tone for its image, given New York’s role as America’s news media capital.

Lieberman was also right to reject Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s plan to send former National Security Council head Uzi Arad to London as a replacement for Prosor: Arad’s combative nature and uncompromising positions would have given our enemies in Britain a field day.

But before we get too carried away in praise of the foreign minister, we should note that Lieberman’s motives in this instance were more to snub Netanyahu, who had leaked his wish to send Arad to London, than anything else.

OF COURSE, given Netanyahu’s dysfunctional style of governing and inability to make a decision, these two appointments have been made months after the posts became open, scandalously leaving us represented at the UN by a relatively junior stand-in. While it’s not unusual for prime ministers and foreign ministers to disagree over candidates for top diplomatic jobs, the protracted wrangling between Netanyahu and Lieberman set a new record for tardiness in filling crucial posts.

The fact that neither Prosor nor Aharoni was Lieberman’s first choice for their new jobs – Netanyahu vetoed the foreign minister’s original suggestions – does not detract from their suitability. But both men, in spite of their diplomatic talents, are going to find themselves stretched to the very limits to represent this government.

Will Prosor be representing Netanyahu’s official position (however hollow it now sounds) that Israel is still seeking a negotiated peace deal with the Palestinians which will culminate in a two-state solution, or that of Lieberman, who has used the very podium of the General Assembly to rip into the very possibility of a peace agreement based on land-for-peace? And how will Aharoni defend the country’s image as “the only real democracy in the Middle East” when its foreign minister has been leading the charge to establish political committees to investigate the funding of nongovernmental organizations with whom he happens to disagree? The problem the country faces is not one of hasbara; it’s one of policy. After two years of Netanyahu’s government, it’s clear he has no vision for Israel, and that the demographic threat to a future as a Jewish and democratic country is getting closer and closer to reality.

When long-standing friends such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel tell the prime minister they no longer believe a word he says when he talks about readiness to make bold moves for peace, even the best diplomats are going to have their jobs cut out for them in defending this government’s policies.

The writer is a former editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post.

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