Obama's Israel Adviser Leaves Trump's White House

Yael Lempert was in charge of Israeli-Palestinian policy at the National Security Council and agreed to stay on for three months to help the Trump administration

Yael Lempert stands next to John Kerry in Paris, June 3, 2016.
Yael Lempert stands next to John Kerry in Paris, June 3, 2016. State Department Photo

Yael Lempert, an American career diplomat who was in charge of Israeli-Palestinian policy at the National Security Council under the Obama administration, is set to leave the White House within weeks after prolonging her tenure by three months to help the Trump administration craft its policy on the issue.

Lempert made it clear to the White House that she wants to leave her post in the NSC and go back to the State Department, where she had made most of her career in government, Haaretz has learned. Lempert wanted to do that right after the end of the presidential transition period, but senior officials in President Donald Trump's administration – including the president's special envoy to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Jason Greenblatt – asked her to stay on for a few more weeks, which turned into three-and-a-half months.

It is not known yet who will replace her in the National Security Council starting next month. 

Lempert is expected to leave the NSC in a few weeks, possibly right after Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas arrives for his first meeting with Trump on May 3. As a career diplomat, Lempert is expected to return to the State Department. She has spent most of her career in the Middle East, including postings in Israel, Egypt and Iraq.

In February, Lempert accompanied Greenblatt on his first work visit to Israel and the Palestinian Authority, which included meetings with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Abbas and senior officials on both sides.

Lempert came under attack from right-wing groups and writers in the United States for supposedly shifting Trump's positions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, despite Trump expressing his wish to reach "the ultimate deal" between the two parties ever since 2015, when he began his run for president. 

Right-wing criticism had "absolutely nothing to do" with Lempert's return to the State Department, a source in the administration told Haaretz.

In face of those attacks, Lempert received backing from Greenblatt, who praised her contribution, and from former Bush administration official Elliott Abrams, who told Haaretz that the Trump administration made the right decision by asking her to extend her stay in the White House. 

One former senior NSC staffer, who requested not to be named, told Haaretz that Lempert wasn't being pushed out, and that a three-year term in the NSC is above the average. "This is the standard way things work. The fact that she stayed until the end of April is what's unusual about this story, not the fact that she's now moving back to the State Department."