Advice for the next US ambassador to Israel - opinion

Where the US ambassador can and should be involved is on matters that improve the Israeli-US relationship and are in line with the challenges facing the two countries.

The US Embassy in Jerusalem (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
The US Embassy in Jerusalem

The role of a diplomat is both simple and complex. They must serve their nation’s interests, as well as maintain and improve their nation’s relationship with their host country.

The position of US ambassador to the State of Israel is highly regarded, largely because of the long and special relationship between the two countries, based on shared values and common interests.

It is not just the fact that Israel is a loyal and important friend to the United States globally. As US President Joe Biden said recently in his meeting with President Isaac Herzog, “If there wasn’t an Israel, we’d have to invent one.”

In other words, this relationship is essential for American interests.

The State of Israel is an important ally for the US, and while the size, strength and capacity are not commensurate, the relationship is one of partnership, bound by a common commitment to democracy, decency and liberty.

 Former US ambassador Tom Nides in his office at the US embassy in Jerusalem.  (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Former US ambassador Tom Nides in his office at the US embassy in Jerusalem. (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

Our two nations have different histories, formative creeds and challenges. The US is blessed to have peaceful neighbors; Israel is not. While the US utilizes a presidential system, Israel created a fully and proportional representative parliamentary system. While it took the US centuries to develop a fully equal political system, Israel gave full rights to all of its citizens regardless of background from its very first moment.

Thus, while our two nation’s goals are the same, our direction of travel and the way we achieve them will be different.

That is why it is vital that any incoming American ambassador to Jerusalem will have to be fully cognizant that the Israeli political system, with its balance of powers and checks and balances, is more fluid than in the US. Sometimes one branch will gain too much strength at the expense of another and might need to be reconfigured.

Even in the US, with its fixed constitution and bicameral system, there are continual tensions between the various branches with constant calls for structural reform to reform the federal judiciary.

Furthermore, while calls to find consensus around major issues is always preferred, it isn’t always possible in Israel’s highly combative parliamentary system, which is currently extremely divisive.

All it takes is to look at the voting patterns for some of Israel’s Basic Laws, which have been apportioned a quasi-constitutional status to understand. Some achieved a slim majority; others did not even receive a majority of 61 votes.

Becoming embroiled in domestic politics is not the role of an ambassador, especially taking such a firm and public stand on one side of the debate. This merely creates ill will and hampers the ambassador’s task.

The ambassador should remain above any local debates unless it has a direct and actual bearing on US-Israel relations.

Where the US ambassador can and should be involved is on matters that improve the relationship and are in line with the challenges facing our two countries.

What the US ambassador to Israel should be doing

THE FIRST is to find common ground on the Iranian nuclear-weapons threat. While the US and Israel will have different perspectives on this, largely due to their position, geography and immediacy of the threat, it is essential that both countries find the best way to fulfill the longstanding pledge by their leaders to ensure the Islamic Republic of Iran never acquires nuclear weapons capability.

There should be acknowledgment that in Israel, there is almost total consensus that the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, commonly known as the Iran nuclear deal, was a mistake and that the Iranians cheated from day one. There needs to be a strong, convincing and united message sent to the ayatollahs that there is a very real and credible military response should they choose to pass the point of no return.

There should be no daylight on this or any other strategic threat.

Finally, the incoming US ambassador should focus on maintaining and strengthening the Abraham Accords.

The accords have literally become a paradigm-breaking moment for a region that has known so much pain, conflict and bloodshed. They were achieved because of a very high-level effort and buy-in by America leadership, and to merely sustain them, there needs to be constant US involvement.

Obviously, talk of a possible normalization agreement between Saudi Arabia and Israel cannot be ignored, and it is clear that talks have progressed. This is no longer a dream, but on the cusp of reality.

It does not appear that there are too many sticking points between the two countries, and most of the demands being made can be met by a willing American administration. The role of the US ambassador to Israel is vital to achieve this.

As we saw with the first normalization and peace agreements, the US ambassador to Israel was central, constantly working behind the scenes and finding the necessary agreement and opportunity that led to these historic understandings.

A US ambassador who is able to bring peace with Saudi Arabia, the most important Arab and Muslim nation, will be forever remembered for the good. This game-changing moment could see the end of the more than 100-year Arab-Israel conflict for good. It can pit all of the moderate and pragmatic nations of the region on the same side against the extremists, openly and publicly.

It can usher in a new era for Jewish and Arab relations which can have an enormous effect far beyond the Middle East.

The expressions of thanks for all those who played a role in such an effort by Jews, Muslims and Christians, by the peoples of the region who yearn for peace and prosperity will be endless.

This is well within the next US ambassador to Israel’s remit and should be a large part of their body of work over the next few years.

The writer is a Los Angeles-based philanthropist and real-estate developer who serves as chairman of the Abraham Accords Roundtable and the Golda Meir Commemorative Coin Committee. He has been involved for many years in strengthening the US-Israel relationship and was instrumental in the passage of the Iron Dome legislation.