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The reasons behind Danon’s appointment as Israel’s UN ambassador

August 19, 2015 at 1:47 pm

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has decided to appoint Science, Technology and Space Minister Danny Danon as Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations. Danon is expected to arrive in New York in late September for an orientation period before commencing his new role. His appointment to the position has sparked criticism both at home and abroad.

Danon, first elected to Parliament in 2009, has fiercely opposed a two state solution, once stating that he hoped Israel would “gain sovereignty over the majority of the land” in the West Bank, “with the minimum number of Palestinians”. He has called the Iran deal “providing a pyromaniac with matches” and has been an outspoken critic of US President Barack Obama. Danon has been attacking Netanyahu since 2007, when he ran against him for the Likud leadership under the campaign slogan, “Danny Danon is to your right, Bibi.”

Since then, he has pitted himself against the PM more than once. In one such incident, Netanyahu decided to fire Danon as deputy defense minister after he publicly criticized government decisions during last summer’s war on Gaza. Netanyahu said he fired Danon because his comments showed a “great degree of irresponsibility” at the height of a military campaign.

In 2013, Danon told the Times of Israel that the Likud party would block the creation of a Palestinian state, even as Netanyahu, the party’s head, was opening the door for negotiations with Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority. Netanyahu’s office then took what the paper called the “highly unusual step of contacting the Times of Israel during Shabbat” to distance the prime minister from Danon’s remarks. As the peace talks failed, Netanyahu was forced to renounce an article in Politico authored by Danon which accused US Secretary of State John Kerry of asking “Israel to negotiate with a loaded gun to our heads”.

The above begs the question; why has Netanyahu given this prestigious position to Danon? Netanyahu has repeatedly claimed the UN is “biased against Israel” . Appointing Danon, who stands firmly against UN positions on issues such as Palestinian statehood and Israeli settlements, may not help matters.

Domestically, the appointment is strategic. Danon is the chairman of the Likud Central Committee, a role in which he led a revolt against Netanyahu more than once. Posting him to New York removes one of the PM’s critic’s from within his own camp from the local scene. The post has already succeeded in reining the outspoken politician in; sources close to Danon told Al-Monitor said that he realizes this is an official post of considerable stature, and that he will be expected to represent the positions of the State of Israel, rather than his personal predilections.

Those against the appointment of Danon are concerned that it will further Israel’s isolation on the international stage. However, international opinion has also not featured particularly high in Netanyahu’s recent decision making. In May he formed one of the most right wing coalition government in decades which included the likes of Naftali Bennet, who declared: “I have killed lots of Arabs in my life—and there is no problem with that” and Ayelet Shaked who caused international outrage this year for an online post in which she seemed to advocate for the genocide of Palestinians. Less than two weeks ago, Netanyahu named Dani Dayan, a former leader of the settler council who also staunchly rejects a Palestinian state, as Israel’s ambassador to Brazil, and days later, he named Fiamma Nirenstein, a right-wing former member of Italy’s Parliament, to represent Israel in Rome.

Obama warned this spring that he was reassessing Washington’s longstanding policy of defending Israel in the United Nations and other international forums because of Netanyahu’s waffling on his commitment to the two-state solution. His appointment of such figures, the majority of whom have rejected a two state solution, could be taken as a show that he will not bow to international pressure, not from the US or the UN.

Despite concerns of isolation, Danon’s appointment does have some strategic value in the international sphere. The UN’s General Assembly is scheduled to convene with the Iran nuclear deal and its pending approval by Congress looming in the background. Netanyahu has been leading a campaign to mobilise Jewish Americans to urge the Republican-led Congress to thwart the Iran nuclear deal, which has led to tension between the Israeli PM and Obama.

Danon is well connected; he has forged political alliances with the most extreme elements on the conservative right wing of the Republican Party, notably with Texas Governor Rick Perry who has been one of Obama’s most outspoken critics. He also has ties to wealthy pro-Israel circles in the US- in 2013 Danon was found to have raised the most money from foreign donors of any Likud member. The UN job will bring him closer to these influential friends.

Despite Danon and Netanyahu’s difficult relationship, the UN is something they both see eye to eye on and a shared disdain for the institution unites them. Netanyahu feels he needs someone who can fight Israel’s corner at the UN and knows Danon will do so vehemently. It is likely these old enemies will find much common ground when Danon arrives in New York.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.