Settlements Minister Tzipi Hotovely accepted the position of ambassador to the United Kingdom, she said on Thursday, almost a month after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu offered it to her.
“I agreed to accept it,” Hotovely said. “It is undoubtedly one of the most senior positions in the foreign service. Britain is very important within Europe and very friendly [to Israel], certainly under [Prime Minister Boris] Johnson’s government, and that is something that must be leveraged with important diplomatic work.”
However, Hotovely added: “I admit that I haven’t really gotten into preparation for the trip and the mission… my whole head is immersed in settlements.”
The settlements minister made the remarks to Army Radio at the end of an interview that focused almost entirely on where Israel plans to apply its laws in the West Bank this summer, and said she would be able to speak more on the topic of her post in the UK in August.
Israel’s current ambassador to the UK, Mark Regev, will finish his five-year term in July.
The UK has been very vocal in its opposition to settlement annexation, through its ambassador to the UN’s speeches to the Security Council and its ambassador to Israel’s participation in a démarche with other European countries to warn Jerusalem off of the plan.
However, the UK is not making any threats against Israel if it goes forward with sovereignty in the West Bank. And unlike the EU, which says it’s not making threats but whose officials have a slate of areas where ties may be weakened, post-Brexit UK does not have much ammunition on this front.
Israel was one of the first countries with which the UK – Israel’s third-largest trading partner after the EU and US – signed an agreement to ensure continued trade in case of a no-deal Brexit.
A well-placed diplomatic source said that formal sanctions are not likely in response to Israel annexing settlements, and that the UK has increased its scientific cooperation with Israel in recent years and is keen to continue in that vein.
Still, there is a danger of private initiatives from UK companies and universities to cut ties with Israel if public opinion turns against Israel.
Hotovely is one of the most passionate advocates of extending sovereignty in the West Bank, and the position of settlements minister was created for her.
For Hotovely to officially become ambassador, she must first be approved by the Civil Service Commission’s committee for senior appointments and then the cabinet. At that point, the Foreign Ministry would send a request for approval from London.
In light of her position as settlement minister, and Britain’s vocal opposition to annexation, some critics posited the UK may not agree to have Hotovely be Israel’s ambassador in London.
However, several Israeli and British diplomatic sources said that scenario was unlikely, pointing out that the UK very rarely rejects ambassadors and that its current government is very friendly to Israel.
Former Israeli ambassador to the UK and head of the Abba Eban Institute for International Diplomacy at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya Ron Prosor said there is no chance the UK would reject Hotovely.
“People understand that the minute they are ambassadors, they represent the whole [of the] State of Israel. This is absolutely important, and I think Tzipi understands that,” he said.
Prosor said he thought Hotovely has advantages as a lawyer and a religious woman who will be able to connect to the Jewish community in the UK.
The ambassador to the UK is “someone who has to stand up on the frontlines and represent Israel… Israel has many challenges and I think Tzipi will represent us very well,” he said.
In 2015, Brazil refused to allow Dani Dayan, former head of the Yesha Council of settlement leaders, to be ambassador to Brasilia. Netanyahu appointed him consul-general to New York instead.