erdan - Michal Fattal - February 9 2011
Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan Photo by Michal Fattal
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Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan turned down an offer yesterday to serve as Israel's next ambassador to the United Nations. Israel has been without a permanent UN ambassador for over half a year, since Gabriela Shalev left the post in June. Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman is said to be highly disappointed in Erdan's decision, although Prime Minister Banjamin Netanyahu is said to prefer to have Erdan's support around the cabinet table in light of the recent political turbulence in the government.

Lieberman is also said to believe that Netanyahu's conflicting messages regarding his plans for Erdan were part of what motivated the environmental protection minister to pass on the offer of the UN ambassadorship, although Erdan denied this. Among Lieberman's Yisrael Beiteinu party, it is thought that Erdan's decision could increase tension between the foreign minister and the prime minister.

Friction between Lieberman and Netanyahu over the United Nations post dates back to last year when the prime minister vetoed the appointment of Alon Pinkas as ambassador at the last minute. Lieberman, for his part, opposed Netanyahu's suggestion that Dore Gold, who had served in the position in the past, be reappointed.

In private conversation yesterday, Netanyahu said there are a number of other possible candidates and that one of them will be appointed soon with the foreign minister's backing. On a temporary basis, the post is being filled by Meron Reuben, who is also the Israeli ambassador to Colombia. Reuben was appointed by Lieberman but never enjoyed the prime minister's backing.

The temporary nature of Reuben's appointment also limits his clout at the UN, which some diplomats say handicaps his effectiveness .

Israel faces major challenges in the world body in the coming months, including expected efforts to advance a Security Council resolution condemning West Bank Jewish settlements, the release of the UN investigative report on the Turkish flotilla incident and the Palestinian effort to achieve UN General Assembly recognition for a Palestinian state.

Erdan is considered one of the more popular Likud members of the cabinet. He has a strong grass-roots following and was ranked in the No. 2 slot in the primaries that preceded the last elections.

He has earned recognition as a professional and hard-working environmental protection minister. He is said to have been concerned that accepting the post of U.N. ambassador would have distanced him from the domestic political arena for an extended period.

Erdan told Haaretz that despite the appeal of the position, he wasn't entirely at peace with the idea. Erdan could expect a more senior cabinet post than environment minister if Likud forms the next government, although the ambassadorship would have given him diplomatic experience that he lacks.

Netanyahu served as Israel's ambassador to the UN from 1984 to 1988.

The Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel and Adam Teva V'Din - the Israel Union for Environmental Defense, both expressed satisfaction that Erdan would be remaining at the helm of the Environmental Protection Ministry.

IUED Executive Director Amit Bracha said the decision reflected Erdan's "great commitment to protecting the environment and advancing the subject as a national priority." Bracha said at a time that Israel was facing major environmental challenges, it was important that Erdan remain on the job "to continue to promote an environmental revolution."