Dual US-UN Roles Mean Heavy Workload for New Israeli Envoy


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WASHINGTON - Fast-rising Israeli politician Gilad Erdan has no illusions about the workload he will face when he arrives in the United States next month to take up his new post as ambassador to the United Nations - and simultaneously as ambassador to the United States later this year.

Both posts are of critical importance to Israel, and liable to be especially sensitive if the new Israeli government sworn in Sunday goes ahead with a plan to annex one-third of the West Bank, in line with U.S. President Donald Trump's peace plan.

"It's a big job," Erdan acknowledged in an interview with the Jerusalem Post published Monday. But noting that he has previously held multiple cabinet posts simultaneously, he said, "I know how to work around the clock."

Asked about the unprecedented decision to have one person hold both posts at the same time, U.S. analysts suggested it had a lot to do with Israeli domestic politics and Erdan's future role in the Likud party, headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Dennis Ross, who played a key role in U.S. efforts to negotiate a Middle East peace plan under presidents George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton, said the dual appointments could be a stepping stone to a future role as foreign minister for Erdan, whom he described as a "very popular member of Likud."

The dual posts carry greater prestige than a single one would, and they make Erdan stand out while affording him relevant international experience, said Ross, who teaches diplomacy at Georgetown University and serves as a distinguished fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

Erdan's popularity may also prove useful as he seeks to satisfy the policy goals of both Netanyahu and his new coalition partner - arch-rival Benny Gantz, who agreed to enter a national unity government only after three elections ended in stalemate.

Erdan, 49, has held several cabinet positions in the last decade, including most recently as head of the public security, strategic affairs and information ministries. But Ross said he will find it a "challenge" to successfully handle the two ambassadorships at the same time.

"American foreign policy is made in Washington," Ross said, and the ambassador must manage relationships not only with the administration and the executive branch - including key departments such as Defense, State and Treasury - but also with the U.S. Congress.

Ross said it will be "essential" for Erdan to reach out to Democratic Party lawmakers in order "for Israel to retain what has always been the hallmark of its relationship with the U.S., namely, its non-partisan posture."

While some Democrats have grown increasingly cool to the Netanyahu government in recent years, Ross said it is to Israel's benefit to sustain the consensus in Washington that "it is an American interest - not a Republican or Democratic interest" to maintain solid ties with Israel.

At the United Nations, Ross said, Erdan could "extend Israel's ability to work with more and more diverse governments," building on the efforts of his predecessors. At the same time, as the Palestinians lead attempts to oppose Israeli policies at the United Nations, Erdan will likely find himself "on the front-line combating these efforts," he said.

"Minister Erdan will have to be able to focus on what is most important and delegate where he can even as he creates a very public presence in both Washington and New York," Ross said.

The length of the new ambassador's tenure in Washington is uncertain, given the power-sharing arrangement between Netanyahu's Likud and Gantz' Blue and White Party - which calls for Gantz to replace Netanyahu as prime minister in 18 months.

"Israeli prime ministers have historically opted to choose their own envoys to Washington," said Ilan Berman, senior vice president of the American Foreign Policy Council, a Washington-based think tank.

But, Berman said, "Dual-hatting him as U.N. representative as well gives him more gravitas, and an insurance policy that will keep him in the States longer," even if Gantz chooses to replace him in the Washington post.

Erdan is expected to begin a three-year term heading Israel's diplomatic mission at the United Nations headquarters in New York next month, according to Israeli media reports. He will step in as the country's ambassador to the United States after the U.S. presidential election in November.