Inside story

Four years after leaving post, will Dan Shapiro return as old-new US ambassador?

Ex-envoy’s name mentioned as possible candidate, along with energy guru Amos Hochstein and former Rep. Robert Wexler, as David Friedman prepares for post-ambassadorial life

Tal Schneider
Tammy Friedman, left, Ambassador David Friedman, second left, and former ambassador Dan Shapiro, right, at the ambassador's residence in Herzliya in 2017. (US Embassy)
Tammy Friedman, left, Ambassador David Friedman, second left, and former ambassador Dan Shapiro, right, at the ambassador's residence in Herzliya in 2017. (US Embassy)

The next US ambassador to Israel may be a familiar face: former envoy Daniel Shapiro, who’s atop the list of possible replacements for David Friedman, who is leaving his post with the end of the Trump administration.

Shapiro’s name has come up along with other potential nominees in conversations with former officials and others familiar with the incoming administration’s thinking on the process.

Shapiro was ambassador to Israel from July 2011 until the start of the Trump administration exactly four years ago. A Hebrew speaker, he remained in Israel after his term ended so his daughters could finish school, and now works for the Institute for National Security Studies think tank in Tel Aviv, where he is a distinguished visiting fellow. He lives in Ra’anana, an upper-middle-class town north of Tel Aviv popular with anglophones.

He declined to comment on his future plans or whether he will be Biden’s pick.

Former US ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro participates in the Meir Dagan Conference for Strategy and Defense, at the Netanya College, on March 21, 2018. (Meir Vaaknin/Flash90)

Another name being mentioned is Amos Hochstein, a former diplomat who headed the US State Department’s Bureau of Energy Resources from 2015 to 2017, leading the Obama administration’s diplomatic efforts related to energy matters.

Hochstein, who was born and raised in Israel with American parents, earlier served as special envoy for international energy for the Obama administration, where he helped Ukraine and other European allies find non-Russian supplies of natural gas. He was also essential in securing an agreement for Israel to supply natural gas to Jordan in 2014.

The discovery of large gas reserves in the eastern Mediterranean over the last decade has played an increasingly large role in regional diplomacy.

While at the State Department, Hochstein led a failed effort to broker discussion between Israel and Lebanon over their maritime border and rights to Mediterranean gas fields. The talks only began last year, brokered by Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs David Schenker.

Then US vice president Joe Biden, left, talks with then State Department special envoy for international energy affairs Amos Hochstein at a working lunch during the Caribbean Energy Security Summit, at the State Department in Washington, January 26, 2015. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais/File)

Hochstein left State in 2017 and advises private enterprises while remaining a frequent commentator on energy diplomacy in the media.

While out of government and not directly involved with the Biden campaign or transition, both Hochstein and Shapiro have cheered on the incoming president and his administration from the sidelines.

Another possibility that has been mentioned is former Florida congressman Robert Wexler.

Robert Wexler and Israeli PM Netanyahu. (photo credit: Courtesy of S.Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace)
Robert Wexler (left) and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. (Courtesy of S.Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace)

Wexler, a Democrat, represented Florida’s 19th Congressional District from 1997 to 2010, and since then has served as president of the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace.

The administration has held its cards close to its chest on the nomination process, and has not made any announcements of possible foreign postings before the inauguration. Many of the nominations it has announced have been former Obama administration officials, such as incoming secretary of state Anthony Blinken.

The US embassy in Jerusalem declined to comment. Friedman will remain in charge of the embassy until 7 p.m. Israel time, when the transition of power in Washington officially takes place.

Friedman, a real estate lawyer with close ties to the settlement movement, has been spending his last days in office making his rounds of goodbyes and soaking up praise from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, which maintained a tight alliance with the White House in the Trump years.

In this January 11, 2021 photo, US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman attends his farewell meeting in the Knesset. (Dani Shem Tov/Knesset Spokesperson)

“I must say that over the years I have met many ambassadors from many countries, including from the US, our great ally, but I can say that there was never a better ambassador than David Friedman in establishing the deep ties between Israel and the US, in correcting the diplomatic injustices that were created over the years in global diplomacy regarding Israel and in establishing the status of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and many other things some of which have yet to be told,” Netanyahu said at a cabinet meeting Sunday, with Friedman in attendance.

Friedman has owned an apartment in Jerusalem since before becoming ambassador and has been spotted recently at his Pinsker Street residence preparing for post-ambassadorial life. He also opened a private Twitter account.

Over the summer, the State Department sold the official ambassadorial residence in Herzliya to Sheldon and Miriam Adelson, in a move apparently intended to stymie any attempt to move the embassy mothership back to Tel Aviv in the future. The transfer of ownership officially takes place in March. In the meantime, questions have been raised about the suitability of the new official residence in Jerusalem.

Friedman, whose nomination in 2017 faced hurdles due to previous comments calling liberal pro-Israel lobby J Street “kapos,” told the New York Times that he plans to divide his time between Jerusalem, New York and Florida, and will not seek Israeli citizenship for at least four years, with hopes of returning to government.

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