Ex-US ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro tapped as Biden’s first Abraham Accords envoy

Ex-ambassador will hold title of senior adviser for regional integration, tasked with boosting Negev Forum; Saudi normalization file will remain largely with the White House

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US bureau chief

Former US ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro attends a farewell session at the Knesset ahead of his departure from the role on January 17, 2017. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Former US ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro attends a farewell session at the Knesset ahead of his departure from the role on January 17, 2017. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced Thursday that former US ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro will be rejoining the Biden administration as its first-ever point-person on expanding the Abraham Accords.

“Dan will support US efforts to advance a more peaceful and interconnected region, deepen and broaden the Abraham Accords, and build the Negev Forum,” Blinken tweeted, adding that Shapiro will hold the title of senior adviser for regional integration.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced earlier this month that the administration would be creating the new post.

Shapiro will take up his position next month, as senior State Department official Yael Lempert — who has held the Negev Forum portfolio — steps aside to become ambassador to Jordan, a US official told The Times of Israel.

The US official revealed that Shapiro’s portfolio will largely not include the Saudi normalization file, which is being spearheaded by senior White House officials Brett McGurk and Amos Hochstein. Instead, Shapiro will be tasked with boosting other aspects of the Abraham Accords, including the Negev Forum — the group formed in 2022 made up of the US, Israel, the UAE, Bahrain, Morocco and Egypt that seeks to advance joint regional projects in a variety of fields.

Shapiro stepped down on Monday from his position at the Atlantic Council think tank where for the past year he directed its N7 Initiative, a joint venture with the Jeffrey M. Talpins Foundation that aims to broaden and deepen normalization between Israel and Arab and Muslim countries.

Before that, he served as a special adviser on Iran in the Biden administration for seven months. The bulk of his time in government came during the Barack Obama administration when he served as ambassador to Israel from 2011 to 2017.

Several hours after Blinken’s announcement, Shapiro tweeted that he was deeply honored to join the State Department and “looked forward to working with partners to help advance a more peaceful, prosperous, integrated region.”

In announcing the new post on June 5, Blinken said: “We will soon create a new position to further our diplomacy and engagement with governments and private sector, nongovernmental organizations, all working toward a more peaceful and a more connected region.”

Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, left, meets with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Jeddah on June 7, 2023. (Amer Hilabi/Pool Photo via AP)

“Israel’s further integration in the region contributes to a more stable, a more secure and more prosperous region,” Blinken said. “That’s why President Biden has made it a cornerstone of his Middle East policy.”

The Biden administration has intensified its efforts to broker an Israel-Saudi Arabia normalization agreement in recent months, with several senior officials visiting Riyadh to raise the issue with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

US officials have acknowledged that the likelihood of a deal is not particularly high, given significant Saudi demands for security guarantees from the US as well as a major gesture for the Palestinians from Israel.

A US official told The Times of Israel last week that recent Israeli settlement announcements had led Morocco to cancel plans to host a Negev Forum ministerial summit next month and that they also “taint” efforts to secure an Israeli-Saudi normalization deal.

Nonetheless, the appointment of a US envoy to spearhead the file indicates that the US is still determined to advance Israel’s integration in the region.

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