May 15, 2023 - World

Scoop: Blinken considering tapping Shapiro as Abraham Accords point person

Dan Shapiro, former U.S. ambassador to Israel, speaks at the American Zionist Movement / AZM Washington Forum in Washington, D.C., in 2018.

Dan Shapiro, former U.S. ambassador to Israel, speaks at the American Zionist Movement Washington Forum n 2018. Photo: Michael Brochstein/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Secretary of State Tony Blinken is considering naming Dan Shapiro, the former U.S. ambassador to Israel, as the State Department's point person for the Abraham Accords, three U.S. officials told Axios.

Why it matters: In the months since the right-wing Israeli government was sworn in, most of the Arab countries that began normalizing relations with Israel as part of the Abraham Accords have largely paused the process.

  • Still, the White House is hoping to expand and strengthen peace treaties that were brokered by the Trump administration.
  • Creating the new State Department position would signal the Biden administration wants to give its efforts a new push ahead of the 2024 presidential election.
  • It would also come as senior White House officials push for the normalizing of relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel.

State of play: Blinken is considering appointing Shapiro in part because Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Yael Lempert, who was dealing with the Abraham Accords and the Negev Forum, is leaving soon to be the ambassador to Jordan, two of the U.S. officials said.

  • Democrats and Republicans in Congress are also pressuring the White House to do more to strengthen the accords, the officials added.
  • The House of Representatives last month overwhelmingly approved a resolution supporting the strengthening of the Abraham Accords.
  • In February Rep. Richie Torres and several other Democratic and Republican lawmakers sponsored a bi-partisan bill that establishes the position of an envoy for the Abraham Accords at the State Department.

What they're saying: The three U.S. officials said Blinken still hasn't made a final decision about whether to create the new post. One of the officials said that if created, it would be a senior adviser position and the scope of the work would be broader than the Abraham Accords.

  • Shapiro and the State Department declined to comment.

Flashback: In the first few months of the Biden administration, Blinken considered appointing an envoy for the Abraham Accords. Shapiro was a leading name for the post at the time.

  • But in the end, the position was not created, partly because of turf wars between the White House and the State Department and within the State Department on who would deal with the issue, two of the U.S. officials told Axios.

Catch up quick: Between August 2021 and March 2022 Shapiro worked at the State Department as a “part-time senior adviser” to U.S. envoy for Iran Rob Malley.

  • He then moved to the Atlantic Council and worked on the N7 initiative, which was aimed at coming up with ideas and practical proposals for government projects in the Middle East and giving backing to the Abraham Accords.
  • He served as the U.S. ambassador to Israel under the Obama administration for six years.

What to watch: Ronen Levy, the director general of the Israeli Foreign Ministry, is visiting Washington this week for talks about the strengthening and expansion of the Abraham Accords, two Israeli foreign ministry officials said.

  • Levy is expected to meet with Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, White House Middle East czar Brett McGurk and Biden’s senior adviser Amos Hochstein. McGurk and Hochstein have been working for the last year on pushing for normalization between Saudi Arabia and Israel.
  • Israeli officials said one of the key issues Levy is expected to discuss in Washington is the ministerial meeting of the Negev forum that was supposed to convene in Morocco earlier this year but has been postponed by the Moroccan government several times because of political sensitivities.
  • Blinken on Sunday spoke to the Moroccan foreign minister and discussed the "importance of the Negev Forum," according to the State Department.
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