Biden to Nominate Ex-Treasury Chief Lew for Ambassador to Israel

President Joe Biden is nominating former US Treasury Secretary Jack Lew to be ambassador to Israel, the White House said Tuesday.

(Bloomberg) — President Joe Biden is nominating former US Treasury Secretary Jack Lew to be ambassador to Israel, the White House said Tuesday.

Lew, 68, also served as Barack Obama’s budget director and as White House chief of staff in his administration. He would replace former ambassador Tom Nides who left his post in Jerusalem in July, after less than two years on the job.

The nomination of Lew, a veteran White House hand, comes at a delicate time in US-Israel relations.

The US and Saudi Arabia are working on a framework aimed at Saudi recognition of Israel in exchange for US security guarantees for the kingdom. 

Biden administration officials have downplayed talk of a breakthrough, with White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby telling reporters in August there was “no agreed-to framework to codify normalization or any of the other security considerations that we and our friends have in the region.”

Biden, though, is seen as keen to have the Saudis recognize Israel, and sent National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan to the kingdom in July in part to discuss the issue. Normalization would be a significant coup for Israel, opening doors to the largest economy in the Middle East. 

Ties between Biden and Benjamin Netanyahu have also been strained over the Israeli prime minister’s judicial overhaul. The plans sparked months of mass protests in Israel and invited criticism from the White House, with Biden in July calling the proposal “divisive.” 

In late July, Israel’s parliament passed legislation that prevents judges from voiding government decisions they deem “unreasonable,” during a session boycotted by opposition lawmakers. 

Netanyahu and his supporters say the country’s legal system has given judges too much power, but opponents say the measures are meant to undercut the judiciary and threaten the country’s democratic system. 

In an interview in August, Netanyahu said his government would also seek to change the way judges are selected.

Biden has invited Netanyahu to meet in the US later this year, but it is not clear if he will welcome the prime minister to the White House. 

The US has also been engaged in months of secret diplomacy with Iran that led to an understanding to free American prisoners held by Tehran and release billions in Iranian funds frozen by the US. US officials have been careful to distinguish that progress from formal nuclear talks, which remain stalled. 

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