Yehuda Lankri
Haaretz (Opinion)
March 18, 2008 - 7:02pm

Maariv recently wrote about "disappointment in the Foreign Ministry" concerning the new U.S. ambassador to Israel, James Cunningham, whose appointment is described by Israeli "diplomatic sources" as a weak and strange choice of "a diplomatic bureaucrat" who lacks understanding of, and diplomatic background in, the Middle East.

Both in form and essence, the reservations of the sources in Jerusalem are curious and even obnoxious. The statements do not further the relationship between the U.S. and Israel, and they tarnish the diplomatic protocol concerning the appointment of ambassadors.

It is doubtful whether any "official sources" would welcome an intended Israeli ambassador by challenging his or her suitability or professional ability. One might also suppose that there are countries where a responsible newspaper would not squander away a substantial part of its pages on lowly and rude gossip by foreign ministry bureaucrats about a guest ambassador.

Besides Turkey, which some 10 years ago vetoed the appointment of the leading historian Ehud Toledano on the grounds that he was pro-Armenian, no country is known to have treated an intended Israeli ambassador with such an embarrassing and slighting attitude. And all this is happening to the intended ambassador of the friend and ally to which Israel owes so much.

During my service in the United Nations, I knew Cunningham in his capacity both as deputy ambassador and as the acting ambassador of the U.S. delegation to the UN. He showed himself to be an excellent, professional and decisive diplomat, very much exposed to the complexities of the Middle East. The UN delegation heads, along with the representatives of the permanent members of the Security Council, treated him with respect.

The second intifada had placed Israel in some difficult situations before the Security Council. Cunningham made considerable efforts to follow his superiors' instructions and bail out their friend, Israel, either by using the U.S. veto or making sure Israel escaped with minimal damage. In extreme situations, when in its fight against terror Israel extracted an unusually high cost of Palestinian lives, Cunningham might well have suggested during closed talks that Israel restrain itself when exercising force. But he scarcely did so, and he should not be viewed as holding strict views on Israel.

The Israeli reality often causes its American ally considerable difficulties in the Security Council. They are therefore permitted to occasionally signal to us that not all of Israel's actions are worthy of praise. In its efforts to shield Israel in the Security Council, the U.S. has become the absolute record holder in using its veto powers. All other permanent members use this privilege rarely. One is safe to assume that the U.S. would have preferred to minimize this record as much as it can.

Presumably, Cunningham's defamers were offended by his matter-of-fact and unemotional demeanor, which leaves little room for chumminess. But he does not suffer from an exaggerated sense of self-importance, he is not overly dramatic and he will not make the mistake of thinking - or allowing his fellow countrymen to think - that his diplomatic work is unprecedented and that he himself is the beginning and end of the saga of U.S. ambassadors to Israel.

The writer is a former Israeli ambassador to France and the UN.


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