Biden considering former ambassador to Israel for a new Middle East role
By Anne Gearan and Tyler Pager,
Jacquelyn Martinez AFP/Getty Images
The Biden administration is strongly considering a former ambassador to Israel for a role as an envoy to the Middle East, people familiar with the planning said. The role is likely to include a portfolio involving diplomatic accords between Israel and Muslim neighbors that were a hallmark of Middle East policy under President Donald Trump.
Daniel Shapiro was a Middle East specialist for President Barack Obama and later the U.S. ambassador to Israel for the Obama administration. He has lived primarily in Israel for years and had been mentioned as a possible ambassador to the country under Biden.
The White House is expected to nominate former State Department official Thomas R. Nides for the Israel job instead. The two Obama administration veterans would work closely together as Biden seeks to strengthen ties between Israel and Muslim-majority nations that had once rejected Israel’s legitimacy.
The exact role Shapiro will fill is unclear, but he has agreed to join the administration, several people familiar with aspects of the discussions said. In all, nine people said they expected Shapiro to take on a new Middle East position, although many identified an ambassadorship that now appears unlikely.
The people each spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter on the record. All said Shapiro’s position is not final.
The White House declined to comment on a personnel issue.
Part of Shapiro’s portfolio may involve work to put Biden’s stamp on the Trump-era project of deals known as the Abraham Accords, people familiar with it said, though it was not clear what that entails.
A role shepherding the four Trump-era normalization deals or encouraging new ones would be a signal that Biden continues to see that approach as valuable despite opposition from senior Palestinian leaders. It could also be a sign that Biden does not see a near-term prospect for peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians to form an independent state. Biden endorsed the goal of two states as recently as last month.
Trump had said he preferred a two-state option, but his administration pursued a parallel strategy of linking Israel to its neighbors through individual agreements that normalized diplomatic relations.
The United Arab Emirates was the first to do so since Egypt and Jordan decades ago, striking a historic agreement with Israel last year to normalize relations and establish business and tourism ties. Three other Arab or Muslim-majority nations followed suit.
Biden welcomed the UAE agreement as a breakthrough toward peace, even though Palestinian leaders bitterly opposed.
The Biden administration has been unusually slow to announce nominations for ambassadors from among the ranks of the president’s friends and political backers. Slates of those nominations, known as political ambassadors, had been expected as early as March.
White House officials have said Biden wants to cut back on the number of ambassadorships awarded as political perks. He is expected to rely more heavily on current and former State Department diplomats and others, such as Shapiro, with specific expertise.
Recently, Shapiro had worked for the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv.