Meridor to resign as ambassador to US
Olmert appointee said to be concerned about waning influence under PM-designate Binyamin Netanyahu.
In a surprise move, Ambassador to the US Sallai Meridor announced Thursday he would be resigning his post as soon as his replacement was selected by the new government.
"It is fitting and proper that the new government will have the opportunity to appoint, immediately upon its formation the man or woman of its choosing as ambassador to Washington," said Meridor, who was appointed by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in the fall of 2006. "I wish the prime minister-designate and the government which is to be formed much success in meeting the challenges facing Israel."
While it is traditional in the US for politically appointed ambassadors to tender their resignation when a new administration takes over, Meridor's decision was unexpected since that has not been the Israeli practice.
At the same time, the last year of Meridor's extended term was due to end in the coming year and diplomatic sources said that Meridor likely made a preemptive decision to go rather than being asked to resign.
The sources said that he would have less influence under incoming prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu. They added that there was concern that Netanyahu would appoint Yitzhak Molcho as his personal go-between with the Obama administration, much as former prime minister Ariel Sharon used Dov Weisglass, cutting down on the ambassador's role.
Already there is speculation about who Netanyahu would be likely to dispatch to Washington. His close advisor Ron Dermer, who recently completed a tour as the economic attachÃ© in Washington, is one possibility, though he is said to prefer heading the communications department in the Prime Minister's Office.
Another name making the rounds is Dore Gold, who is also close to Netanyahu and once served as Israel's ambassador to the UN. Originally Americans, both have perfect English skills.
Other political appointees stationed in America are also likely on their way out, including New York consul-general Asaf Shariv, who had extremely close ties to Sharon.
Livni called Meridor Thursday after word of his resignation broke. She thanked him for his service and said he contributed a great deal to Israeli-US ties, according to the Foreign Ministry.
Olmert released a public statement expressing regret at Meridor's decision, saying he was a central player in Israel's foreign policy and that Meridor had "unprecedented influence with the administration, Congress and American public opinion." The prime minister added that he consulted often with Meridor and appreciated his wisdom and understanding of the issues.
Netanyahu also released a statement Thursday thanking Meridor for his dedication and professionalism.
He noted that he was informed of the decision at the beginning of the week, when Meridor arrived for his first trip to Israel since the recent elections as part of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's visit to the country.
Media reported that Meridor had been shut out of the meeting Netanyahu held with Clinton Wednesday, and some speculated this helped seal his decision. But if anything the decision that Meridor not participate was in anticipation that he would no longer be in his current position.
According to Netanyahu's statement, however, the Americans specified that each country would only have three representatives at the meeting. Netanyahu was joined by his two top foreign policy advisers, Uzi Arad, who is expected to head the National Security Council in the Netanyahu government, as well as Molcho, who advises Netanyahu on Palestinian issues. Three other top Netanyahu aides, among them Dermer and Gold, were also shut out.
Clinton was accompanied by US Middle East envoy George Mitchell, and US ambassador to Israel James Cunningham.
In his statement, Netanyahu, who thanked Meridor for helping prepare for the Clinton meeting, also asked that the ambassador stay on until his replacement is chosen.
With a government still being formed, the process could take a few months. In the meantime, Meridor proceeded with his normal activities on Thursday, holding meetings in Washington on Mitchell's work and the Iranian threat.