Having headed his country’s embassy in Tel Aviv for nearly four years, Australian Ambassador to Israel Dave Sharma is set to return to Canberra in the coming months, the Australian Foreign Ministry announced Wednesday, naming career diplomat Chris Cannan as his replacement.
Sharma, considered one of the most pro-Israel foreign ambassadors in Israel, also drew fire from Palestinians during his time as envoy for taking positions seen as in line with Jerusalem’s stances, including holding a meeting with a hawkish minister in East Jerusalem.
“I thank outgoing Ambassador Dave Sharma for his outstanding contribution to advancing the Australia-Israel relationship since 2013,” Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said in a statement.
Touting what she called a “warm relationship” between Israel and Australian, Bishop praised a number of projects spearheaded by Sharma during his tenure as ambassador including the Tel Aviv “landing pad” where Australian entrepreneurs and investors can use office space and services to establish business connections in Israel and an Israel-Australia air services agreement reached in February.
In June 2014, the Australian government announced that it would no longer refer to East Jerusalem as “occupied territory,” explaining that the phrase was judgmental and did not contribute to the dialogue about the contested area.
A month earlier, Sharma drew fire after meeting with Housing Minister Uri Ariel in the latter’s East Jerusalem office. Most envoys avoid meeting Israeli officials anywhere beyond the Green Line lest it be seen as tacit approval of Israeli claims to the territory. Furious about Sharma’s move, Palestinian chief peace negotiator Saeb Erekat wrote an angry letter to Bishop, which was leaked to Haaretz on the same day it was sent.
Sharma, who was appointed by then-Australian foreign minister Bob Carr in 2013, will officially finish his tenure in mid-June, he wrote on Twitter, urging Israelis to help his successor “feel welcome.”
Folks, my time in Israel comes to an end soon. From mid-June, Chris Cannan takes over as ambassador. Please make him feel welcome! https://t.co/kzWnwSM8dY
— Chris Cannan
Chris Cannan is a senior career diplomat in the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) and most recently served as assistant secretary of the Global Development Branch.
Cannan has held a range of positions in the ministry including chief of protocol and assistant secretary of the Staffing Branch, Environment Branch, and Northern, Southern and Eastern Europe Branch. He has previously served overseas with DFAT in Vienna and Manila, and with the Peace Monitoring Group.
Raoul Wootliff contributed to this report.