US Ambassador Richard Jones is scheduled to leave his post on July 11, even though it is not yet clear when - and even if - his announced replacement, James Cunningham, will arrive. Foreign Ministry Director-General Aharon Abramovich hosted Jones for a farewell lunch on Tuesday, and ministry officials said they expected Cunningham, the US's consul-general in Hong Kong and a former US deputy ambassador to the UN, to arrive in Israel in mid-August. The US Senate has not yet confirmed his appointment, which like some 240 other executive branch and judicial nominees is stalled because of legislative wrangling between the Republican administration and Democratic Senate majority. However, the timing has also raised some speculation that the Senate may hold off on the confirmation until after the November presidential elections. In the absence of a US ambassador, Luis Moreno - the number two at the US embassy in Tel Aviv - would be the chargÃ© d'affaires. Jones will be leaving the State Department and has been named deputy executive Director of the International Energy Agency (IEA) an intergovernmental organization based in Paris dealing with a wide array of energy-related issues. While one diplomatic source said it would make sense for the confirmation of the appointment to be delayed until after the election, that would leave the important US ambassadorial position here empty for a number of months, a period which is likely to see a flurry of US diplomatic activity in an attempt to get an Israeli-Palestinian shelf agreement by the end of US President George W. Bush's tenure. In an indication of the diplomatic activity that is likely during this period, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who left Israel on Monday after holding a series of talks with Israel and Palestinian officials and making some of her most critical public comments of Israel since taking office, is scheduled to return to the region for her 22nd visit on July 9. That Rice will be returning so quickly, one diplomatic official said, indicates that she feels "it is worth it" to continue working toward an Israeli-PA shelf agreement.