Israel appointed an American historian to be the next ambassador to Washington, officials said Sunday as Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman made his first diplomatic trip to Europe in hopes of shoring up patience with the newly voted government.
The nomination of Michael Oren, a Columbia and Princeton-educated historian who is currently a guest lecturer at Georgetown University, is expected to be announced before Netanyahu leaves for a mid-May meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama.
In a lecture at Georgetown last month, Oren said Israel must unilaterally withdraw from the occupied West Bank, an idea rejected by Netanyahu.
"The only alternative for Israel to save itself as a Jewish state is by unilaterally withdrawing from the West Bank and evacuating most of the settlements," he was quoted as saying in the Haaretz newspaper.
Oren, 54, holds American and Israeli passports but will have to renounce his U.S. citizenship to assume the post.
The new ambassador’s comments came at a time of rising tensions between Israel and the European Union over the stalled peace process as the bloc’s executive arm warned that ties would not be upgraded with Israel until the new cabinet recognized the principle of the two-state solution.
Israel’s foreign minister, who has triggered controversy over his virulently anti-Arab stance, will tell the Europeans to be patient while the new right-leaning cabinet draws up its official policy on peacemaking, an official said.
"He will ask that the Europeans to wait a bit until the government presents its new policy," foreign ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor told AFP.
Lieberman, leader of the far-right Yisrael Beitenu (Israel is Our Home) party, has been described as a "racist" by critics over his anti-Arab diatribes.
Last week, Israel also warned the EU to limit its criticism of Netanyahu’s cabinet or risk losing a role in any peace process.
The warning was issued in phone conversations between the deputy director of the Israeli foreign ministry’s European desk, Rafi Barak, and the ambassadors of Britain, France and Germany.
"Israel asks the European Union to keep a low profile and conduct a quiet dialogue… But if these declarations continue, Europe will not be able to have involvement in the peace process and both sides will lose," Barak was quoted as telling the ambassadors.
EU External Affairs Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner said Europe would not implement a planned upgrade of relations until Netanyahu commits to the principle of a two-state solution.
The hawkish prime minister has so far refused to publicly endorse the idea of a Palestinian state, a bedrock principle of international plans for the settlement of the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Netanyahu, whose government was sworn in on March 31, has insisted that the economy in the occupied West Bank be improved before discussions proceed on other issues.
He is due to present his government’s policy in a meeting with Obama, expected to take place on May 18 in Washington.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who will meet Obama ten days after Netanyahu, said he will tell the U.S. president that resuming peace talks with Israel hinges on its approval of a two-state solution.
"Our conditions and demands are based on the two-state solution and Israel’s halt of settlement building as well as house demolitions. These are our demands and the demands of the Americans themselves to resume the talks," Abbas said.