WASHINGTON – White House press secretary Jen Psaki last week said there had not yet been a conversation with President Joe Biden about who he would like to name for any ambassadorships.
“That may be tough news to hear for people who are interested in ambassadorship roles, but he has not had a conversation about that, nor has there been a memo presented to him to make decisions,” she said.
Asked about the time frame for naming ambassadors, Psaki would not commit on when the process could start.
“I don’t have a predicted timeline,” she said. “I will note that under the Obama administration, it was around March. I’m not sure we will or won’t meet that timeline.”
According to Dan Arbell, a scholar-in-residence at the Center for Israeli Studies at American University and a 25-year veteran of the Israeli Foreign Service, “Nominating ambassadors would take time. First, the president is naming his cabinet, and then he moves on to undersecretaries and assistant secretaries. Every nominee is being considered in a Senate committee and needs to be approved at the Senate floor, and it should take several weeks.”
As of now, only seven of 23 cabinet members have been approved by the Senate, and the others are in different stages in their confirmation process. The State Department usually appoints between six and eight undersecretaries and some two dozen more assistant secretaries.
“Only after that will the president roll out his ambassadors,” Arbell said. “I assume that some of the ambassadors would be confirmed only around late spring or even in the summer.”
If it is a matter of months, how could it affect the US-Israel relationship?
“The old-fashion diplomacy does not exist anymore,” he said. “In the 21st century, the relationship between countries is often shaped between the leaders and their close advisers. And while not having an ambassador for a few months is not an ideal situation, it shouldn’t affect the relationship between Israel and the US.”
To succeed in this position, the ambassador should maintain close connections to the State Department and the White House, but also to the Israeli leadership, Arbell said.
“In many occasions, the president decides to name an ambassador who previously was a campaign donor,” he said.
Regarding the history of people who held the position of ambassador to Israel, Arbell said: “The US named all types of ambassadors over the years. Some, like David Friedman and Martin Indyk, were close to the president. Others, like Dan Kurtzer, were career diplomats with a Middle East background. Several others were career diplomats without a Middle East background.”
Psaki said Biden “values foreign-policy experience,” and everyone is speculating on who could fill the role.
“From conversations with Washington insiders, the name of Michael Adler is often mentioned as the leading candidate [for ambassador to Israel],” Arbell said. “However, it is too soon to tell. Former ambassador Dan Shapiro, former deputy secretary of state Tom Nides and former Democratic rep. Robert Wexler are also being mentioned as potential ambassadors.”
Last month, Adler told the Forward he would be honored to serve as ambassador in Jerusalem.
“I want to help him where he feels I can do the best, and certainly ambassador is potentially one of those,” he said. “I would be very excited and honored if that’s the particular position.”
The Miami-based real-estate developer has known Biden for nearly 50 years.
“I know I’m a candidate; there’s no question about that,” Adler told the Forward. “I want for Israel and the United States the role of ambassador to Israel to be the person that this administration feels could do the best job in fostering the positive relationship there. Do I think that I could potentially be that person? Absolutely. And does that job interest me? Absolutely.”
Another possible candidate is Shapiro. In an event at the Weizmann Institute last week, Shapiro said he would be happy to promote the US-Israel relationship whether as a member of the administration or not. Shapiro’s name was also mentioned as a potential State Department assistant secretary for the Near East.
An additional reported name was Amos Hochstein, the Obama administration’s special envoy and coordinator for international energy affairs.
Hochstein, who was born and raised in Israel and served in the IDF, has been frequently interviewed in the Israeli media about Biden in recent months.