US President Joe Biden is slated to send senior diplomat Michael Ratney to Jerusalem next month to serve as the interim head of the US embassy in Jerusalem until a full-time ambassador is confirmed, a source familiar with the matter told The Times of Israel on Thursday, confirming a story first reported by Axios.
The Biden administration has been accused of de-prioritizing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and there is growing understanding among officials — particularly against the backdrop of the latest flareup in Gaza — that it needs more senior diplomats on the ground, the source said.
From 2012 to 2015, Ratney headed the US Consulate General in Jerusalem, which served as the de-facto representative to the Palestinians while monitoring and reporting on developments in East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
He then served as former president Barak Obama’s special envoy to Syria.
In the next administration, Ratney served as deputy assistant secretary of state for Israeli-Palestinian affairs and special envoy before shifting to training diplomats at the State Department’s Foreign Service Institute after former president Donald Trump moved the US embassy to Jerusalem.
Trump’s decision to move the embassy was coupled with another move to shutter the US Consulate in the city.
Ratney’s wife Karen Sasahara was consul general at the time and was transferred to a new post in Jordan.
Jonathan Shreier has been heading the US Embassy in Jerusalem as chargé d’affaires since former Ambassador David Friedman stepped down on Trump’s final day in January. Shreier will stay on as deputy head of mission once Ratney arrives.
Biden is expected to name a full-time ambassador to Israel in the coming month.
Sources familiar with the matter tell The Times of Israel the issue remains a toss-up between former State Department official Thomas Nides and former Florida Congressman Robert Wexler.
Both have familiarity with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Wexler particularly so, currently serving as the head of the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace in Washington.
Nides served as deputy secretary of state for management and resources in the Obama administration before becoming a managing director at Morgan Stanley.
He has close ties with several key Biden officials, including Secretary of State Antony Blinken; but Wexler also has a growing list of backers including Congressman Ted Deutch and Senator Bernie Sanders.