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State Dept: Worth naming ambassador to Israel despite Senate political football game

Foggy Bottom looks forward to working with partners in Congress whenever the administration announces its nominee for ambassador to Israel, a State Department spokesman told JNS.

Vedant Patel, U.S. State Department deputy spokesman, answers questions at the department's Aug. 18, 2023 press briefing. Credit: YouTube screen shot.
Vedant Patel, U.S. State Department deputy spokesman, answers questions at the department's Aug. 18, 2023 press briefing. Credit: YouTube screen shot.

State Department: Potential Israel political football game in Senate worth it to nominate ambassador to Jerusalem

Despite significant obstacles impeding the confirmation of any prospective nominee, the Biden administration has to select an ambassador to Israel due to “vitally important” U.S. interests in the Middle East, the U.S. State Department said on Thursday.

Jack Lew, an Orthodox Jew who served as U.S. treasury secretary and White House chief of staff under President Barack Obama, is reportedly being vetted for a possible nomination for the position. Tom Nides resigned as ambassador to Israel in June, claiming he wanted to spend more time with his family who did not move to Jerusalem with him.

Career diplomat Stephanie Hallett, Nides’ former deputy, is serving as the American embassy’s chargé d’affaires. Any Nides replacement outside of the Foreign Service would require Senate confirmation—a process heavily bogged down by often unrelated domestic political concerns. Such a confirmation would be particularly difficult given Israel’s charged standing among some senators and frayed ties between the Biden and Netanyahu governments.

Lew’s service under Obama, at a time when he vigorously defended the administration’s nuclear accord with Iran, would likely only serve to complicate matters further should his name be forwarded to the Senate.

At the State Department’s Thursday press briefing, JNS asked whether it was worthwhile for the Biden administration to float a nomination for the U.S. ambassadorship to Israel prior to the next U.S. presidential election.

“We think it is important to have confirmed ambassadors in as many capitals as we can,” Vedant Patel, the department’s deputy spokesman, told JNS. (He noted that there are “incredibly qualified” chargés d’affaires in places lacking ambassadors.)

“But it is clear that a confirmed ambassador conveys the approval and the strength of confirmation of Congress, as well as being personally nominated by the president of the United States,” Patel said. “Not just in Israel, but in any country, it is incredibly important to have as many confirmed ambassadors as possible.”

JNS further inquired about balancing the pros of having an ambassador in place with the problem of Israel being kicked around as a political football in the Senate during the confirmation process, Patel said, “Whenever this administration announces its nominee to be the ambassador to Israel, we look forward to working with our partners in Congress on moving that forward.” 

“I don’t think it is lost on anybody how vitally important American interests are in that region and how important it is that when the time comes to have a confirmed ambassador there,” Patel added.

New U.S. ambassadors to Jordan and the United Arab Emirates were only confirmed in recent weeks. It has been more than a year since there was a U.S. ambassador in Egypt or Kuwait, and no ambassador is posted in Oman. 

Lebanon’s ambassador recently completed her three-year term, with no replacement confirmed, and Saudi Arabia had lacked an American ambassador for two years until this past March.

The lags are due to a combination of delays by the White House in naming nominees and holds which various Republican senators have placed on nominations, which lengthen the confirmation process exponentially.

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