Michael Oren, a senior fellow and scholar of Middle Eastern diplomatic and military history at the Shalem Center in Jerusalem, is Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu's choice to be his ambassador to Washington, sources in Israel and Washington say.
Oren, a New Jersey native who emigrated to Israel in the 1970s, is a published historian and contributing editor to The New Republic. He spoke to NPR during Israel's recent Gaza campaign in his capacity as a reservist serving as a spokesman for the Israeli military.
Hearing the appointment was a done deal, a plugged-in Washington Middle East hand said Netanyahu's choice for the key post of a historian with strong ties to the neoconservatives who never previously served in any diplomatic function was slightly puzzling. "Not sure Netanyahu understands the changes in D.C.," he said.
Other recent Israeli government appointments have not done much to ease awkward relations between the new Obama and Netanyahu administrations. As previously reported, Netanyahu's long time advisor and choice to head his national security cabinet, Uzi Arad, has written several letters to try to resolve U.S. counterintelligence concerns that prevented him from receiving a U.S. visa two years ago. JTA recently reported that Israeli foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman has chosen another Israeli official connected to the AIPAC case, Naor Gilon, to serve as his chief of staff.
(Meantime, the Washington Post reports Tuesday that prosecutors are considering dropping charges against two former AIPAC lobbyists.)
Netanyahu was not first in line among Middle Eastern leaders to get face time with Obama at the White House. That went to Jordan's King Abdullah II, who held meetings with Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton today.
But the White House said Netanyahu will get a meeting in the next few weeks. Obama will invite Middle Eastern leaders, including Netanyahu, Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, and Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas for separate meetings in the coming weeks, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said Tuesday. The series of meetings, Gibbs said, is part of the Obama administration's effort to "achieve a comprehensive peace in the Middle East."
UPDATE: Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth writes Wednesday, that the Oren appointment is being considered but not a done deal:
A new source of tension has arisen between the Obama administration and Israel, this time concerning the decision of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman to appoint Michael Oren as Israel's ambassador to Washington. A senior source close to the administration said last night: "In light of the harsh criticism that Oren directed at Obama in the election campaign, appointing him as ambassador is an odd choice."
During the campaign, Oren published an article in which he tried to answer the question who would be better for Israel as a US president: Obama or John McCain. Obama's aides said that in the guise of an academic study, Oren conveyed his personal opinions and published things that portrayed Obama as non-supportive of Israel. Oren wrote that the Obama administration would present a completely new initiative based on zero tolerance for construction in settlements and roadblocks, an initiative that would be founded on the assessment that the road to Baghdad and Tehran passes through Bethlehem and Nablus.
Oren wrote further that McCain would not disrupt the United States' relations with Israel, whereas Obama could be expected to deviate from the alliance ....
Oren is close to a series of figures in the previous Republican administration, and has held meetings with figures in the campaign staff of former Republican Party presidential candidate John McCain. ... Oren's associates say that he is a very charismatic person, who is also close to many Democratic senators. They say that Obama himself declared that he had read Oren's book. ...
Meanwhile, sources in the Prime Minister's Bureau confirmed that Oren was one of the candidates for the post but not the only one, and clarified that no decision had been made. Netanyahu met this week with one of the candidates, Dr. Dore Gold, and said that he still considered him a leading candidate for the post. Additional candidates are Zalman Shoval and Alon Pinkas.
More from JTA, which says Oren would be honored but hasn't yet been asked.