Shuttle diplomacy: UN envoy Erdan starts 2nd role as Israel’s ambassador to US

Splitting time between NYC and DC, former Likud lawmaker enters post at sensitive point in bilateral relationship, hoping to prevent disagreements from developing into crises

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

Israeli Ambassador Gilad Erdan speaks at the UN in New York in January 2021. (Shahar Azran/ Israeli Mission to the UN)
Israeli Ambassador Gilad Erdan speaks at the UN in New York in January 2021. (Shahar Azran/ Israeli Mission to the UN)

Israeli Ambassador to the UN Gilad Erdan took on the additional role of ambassador to the US on Thursday, replacing Ron Dermer, who held the position for the past seven years.

Erdan enters the post at a particularly sensitive point in the bilateral relationship between Israel and the US, which reached new heights during the presidency of Donald Trump.

US President Joe Biden, who took office Wednesday is widely believed to boast his own impressive pro-Israel bona fides, but where the liberal president and conservative Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government diverge are on Iran and the Palestinians.

Biden plans to return to the Iran nuclear deal so long as Tehran returns to compliance with the agreement vacated by Trump in 2018 at Netanyahu’s behest. The Israeli premier has warned, in turn, that such a strategy would be dangerous.

While the Biden administration has recognized that Israelis and Palestinians are not currently in a place to enter serious peace negotiations, the Democratic president is hoping to promote steps that will bring the sides closer together and has expressed opposition to unilateral moves such as annexation and settlement expansion, which have become part of Netanyahu’s policy agenda.

Netanyahu and Dermer have also been accused by critics of mortgaging relations with the Democratic party due to their bear hug embrace of Trump, following several years of very public breaks with the Democratic administration of Barack Obama over its promotion of the Iran nuclear deal.

Erdan will have big shoes to fill, replacing Dermer whose major currency in the US was his exceptionally close relationship with Netanyahu. The longtime adviser to the premier played an integral role in the negotiations that led to the Abraham Accords, the series of normalization deals with Arab states during his last few months in office.

Erdan, who himself has a long history with Netanyahu in the Likud party, will be tasked with smoothing over relations with Democrats, while continuing to represent a government that may soon find itself at odds with Washington over the Iran issue.

“I’d like to get to a point where the bond between Israel and the US is so strong that not every disagreement will turn into a crisis,” Erdan told The Times of Israel.

An aide for the ambassador said that in his new role, Erdan will work to strengthen bipartisan support for Israel. Within that framework, he plans to reach out to various communities throughout the US, and has an eye on the Black and Latino communities in particular.

He plans to share Israeli innovation and environmental technology that addresses climate change — an issue on which he will likely find common ground with Democrats in Congress. Erdan will also promote the efforts of Mashav, Israel’s Agency for International Development, his aide said.

Ron Dermer, Israel’s ambassador to the United States, speaks at the Economic Club of Detroit in Detroit, Michigan, on June 4, 2018. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

To prepare for taking on the critical role, Erdan made several recent trips to Washington where he met with Dermer at the embassy and was briefed by the envoy as well as other members of the diplomatic corps, his aide said.

He was also in Israel last month where he held consultations with Netanyahu about the job. The envoy also met with various think tank scholars and heads of Jewish organizations in the US in recent months.

“Ron, thank you for everything you have done for the people of Israel and for everything you will do in the future,” Erdan tweeted Thursday, praising Dermer. “During your tenure, Israel-US ties reached new heights and amazing achievements.”

Erdan and his family are based in New York, where he moved in July for the UN post. He plans on spending several days a week in DC.

While he will be the first Israeli envoy since Abba Eban to serve as ambassador both to the UN and to the US, his aide pointed out that Erdan has experience holding down two major offices at once, having recently served as public security minister and strategic affairs minister for five years.

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