Dan Shapiro, the new American ambassador to Israel, submitted his credentials to President Shimon Peres on Wednesday. That same day, he submitted a declaration of support for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: In an interview with Channel 2 television, he downplayed the lack of trust between Netanyahu and U.S. President Barack Obama and the latter's rage and sense of insult over Netanyahu's appearance before Congress in May, treating their serial disputes as routine disagreements between friends. Shapiro noted that he was present at all the many meetings between Obama and Netanyahu. So who are we to cast doubt on a videotaped affidavit by an eyewitness?
The newly-arrived diplomat's decision to jump immediately into the media water and the friendly, almost fawning, content of his interview show that Shapiro was not sent here to promote peace between the Israeli leader and his Palestinian counterpart. Rather, his goal is to promote peace between the American president and American Jewish leaders. His main job will be to dismantle every Israeli land mine on his boss' road to a second term.
Obama didn't choose Shapiro because of the diplomatic experience the latter gained during his tenure as senior director for the Middle East and North Africa at the National Security Council; the diplomatic process has been presided over by Dennis Ross, who has no equal in his ability to tread water in the Israeli-Palestinian channel. Shapiro isn't here to try his luck in proximity talks between Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas: He accompanied George Mitchell on all the latter's shuttle diplomacy between Jerusalem and Ramallah and knows quite well why that veteran mediator quit and returned his letter of appointment to Obama.
Rather, the qualifications that brought this energetic and likable young man to Tel Aviv 15 months before the American elections are his personal loyalty to Obama, his political experience, his deep Jewish roots (he comes from a traditional Jewish family ) and his fluent Hebrew (he also speaks some Arabic ).
Shapiro bet on Obama from the earliest days of the Democratic presidential primary race that began in 2007, at a time when most of his then-colleagues in the lobbying industry were predicting that Hillary Clinton would win. Supporting a black senator from Illinois was a natural choice for a young Jew raised (in Champaign, Illinois ) by liberal parents. And Obama's subsequent elevation of Shapiro to the top ranks of his Middle East team was also a natural choice: The Jewish adviser devoted a significant portion of his time and energy to countering the Jewish and Christian right's indefatigable attempts to portray Obama's peace efforts as proof of his alleged Muslim roots.
In 1993, after finishing his master's degree in Middle Eastern politics at Harvard University, Shapiro served on the staff of Lee Hamilton, then the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and a leading Democratic congressman. He cheered when Israel and the Palestinians signed the Oslo Accords and was a fervent admirer of then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.
After the Republicans captured both houses of Congress in 1994, Shapiro became Jewish senator Dianne Feinstein's senior foreign policy advisor. A year later, Feinstein refused to cosponsor a bill to move the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem - one of the provocative initiatives the Israeli right and its supporters in Congress dreamed up in an effort to kill the nascent peace process.
Shapiro's first reports from the embassy on Tel Aviv's Hayarkon Street will presumably deal with the tent protests. Barring any surprises, next month he will report on the demise of the peace process, and perhaps also on a third intifada. When that happens, will Obama's campaign strategists still be asking him to tell us that the U.S-Israeli relationship is just as wonderful as it always was, and that the settlements are just a disagreement between friends?
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