Israel's ambassador to the U.S., Michael Oren is expected to step down from his role in May 2013 after four years as Benjamin Netanyahu's representative in Washington. This role is one of the Israeli prime minister's most important positions of trust, all the more so when it comes to Netanyahu.
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On Friday morning, the diplomatic correspondent of Israeli daily Makor Rishon Ariel Kahan reported that Netanyahu is nominating his advisor Ron Dermer to the role. Dermer has served as Netanyahu's advisor for the past four years. I asked the Prime Minister's Office whether they can confirm the report, and received an expected and routine answer: "No comment."
I asked another Israeli official who is close to Netanyahu about the report. The official said that it is possible that Dermer will be nominated, although the fact that in Washington he is thought of as hostile to the Obama administration, and that his views are seen as further to the right than Netanyahu's, might cause the prime minister to reconsider, and pick another person for the job.
It is hard to know if Netanyahu will change his mind over the Dermer nomination or not. But before that happens, here is some food for thought on Ron Dermer and his nomination to the sensitive role:
1. Dermer, who immigrated from the U.S. in 1997, is clearly identified by the Obama administration as a supporter of the Republican party. His family in Miami Beach have close ties with the Bush family, particularly with former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, who's name has been mentioned as one of a number of possible contenders for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016.
2. Aside from identifying him as a Republican supporter, many Democrats see Dermer as the brains behind Netanyahu's support for Mitt Romney. An article published in Tablet Magazine a few months before the elections revealed that Dermer was the one who conceived and planned Romney's visit to Israel in July this year, along with Dan Senor, an advisor to Romney:
" Romney’s visit is the brainchild of two other men: Ron Dermer, the American-born political operative who is Netanyahu’s chief strategist and speechwriter and, more importantly, Dan Senor, a Republican politico-turned-investor who is a close adviser to the Romney campaign.
But the current trip, coming so late in the campaign season, was planned quietly, for fear of provoking a possible last-minute visit by President Obama. Late last month, while Senor was in Jerusalem for his niece’s bat mitzvah, he met Dermer for breakfast at the King David Hotel; a few days later, with the Romney campaign’s blessing, Dermer gave the scoop to the New York Times."
3. Dermer is also the person who tried to convince Netanyahu by any means possible that Romney was set to win the elections. We saw what happened in the end. With the Obama starting his second term in the White House, it will be hard for Dermer to develop a network of trusted and intimate contacts among the president's most senior advisors.
4. Dermer's positions on policy are far more extreme than Netanyahu's. European and American officials have told me a number of times over the past four years that they were shocked by his positions on the settlement issue, on peace talks with the Palestinians, and on the principle of an independent Palestinian state. I recall one incident when, on the way back from Netanyahu's first visit to Washington, Dermer told reporters on the prime minister's plane that "the principle of two states for two peoples is a childish solution to a complicated problem." A U.S. State Department diplomatic cable of the that was leaked to Wikileaks revealed that Dermer is convinced that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is no partner for peace. (Click here for the original document).
5. Netanyahu thinks Dermer is as an oracle on everything related to American politics and society. Despite his serious error over the U.S. elections, and his lack of understanding of changes in American society, Dermer's biggest problem, in my opinion, is his level of knowledge and understanding of Israeli society.
Dermer immigrated to Israel in 1997 at the age of 26. He did not serve in the IDF or do national service (he claims that he went to sign up, but the IDF rejected his request to enlist). Since he moved to Israel, he has mainly been involved in politics – at first as an advisor to Natan Sharansky and later as an aide to Netanyahu. For four years, from 2004 to 2008, he was not in Israel at all, after Netanyahu nominated him as a representative of Israel's Finance Ministry to Washington. Any Israeli ambassador doesn't just have to be able to pass on their sense of the moods and feelings in their host country to Jerusalem, they must also know how to do the opposite. In the meetings I have had with him, my overall impression is that Dermer is still more American than Israeli. =