Gilad Erdan: Israel's annexation ambassador
The world is about to see a lot more of Gilad Erdan, Israel's newly appointed annexation ambassador.
Erdan, the outgoing minister of public security and strategic affairs, was appointed on Monday as his country's next envoy to both the United States and United Nations.
He takes the roles at a crucial time for Israel, as it readies itself to build support for and defend plans to annex parts of the occupied West Bank. He will be in place, too, to deal with a US administration led either by Donald Trump or Joe Biden - two very different prospects.
The member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party is set to replace Danny Danon as ambassador to the UN once approved by the new Israeli government, which will be sworn in on Thursday following a year of political limbo and three elections.
'Netanyahu sees Erdan as one of the most prominent and popular forces in the Likud party. As a result, Netanyahu sees Erdan as a threatening heir'
- Yonathan Mendel, analyst
He will then be based in New York, where the UN is headquartered, before heading to Washington once Ron Dermer has vacated his post as ambassador to the United States, likely following November's US elections.
Yonathan Mendel, an Israeli analyst, told Middle East Eye that Erdan’s appointment testifies to his power within the Likud party.
“Netanyahu sees Erdan as one of the most prominent and popular forces in the Likud party. As a result, Netanyahu sees Erdan as a threatening heir, so he sought to distance him and give him clear powers with a clear mission, which is promoting Israeli annexation of the West Bank in the US and UN,” Mendel said.
Ahead of March's election, Netanyahu campaigned hard on a manifesto promising the annexation of illegal Israeli settlements and the Jordan Valley - territory that makes up around a third of the West Bank. Such a move would be illegal under international law, however, the US government and Netanyahu's rival-turned-coalition partner Benny Gantz have vowed to wave annexation through under the right circumstances.
It is widely believed that some form of annexation is being prepared for July.
According to Mendel, Erdan's appointments serve two purposes for Netanyahu. With both roles in the hands of one man, the promotion of annexation can be streamlined. But having one address to turn to also allows the prime minister to coordinate and control efforts, too.
Erdan's prominent role fighting the pro-Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement - he has urged US campuses to crack down on student chapters and restricted entry of its activists and supporters - has also played a part, Mendel said.
Not to mention his aggressive rhetoric against Palestinians.
“He took part in the incitement against Arab-Israeli citizens and Palestinians, and repeated harsh remarks against Arab Knesset members, including Ayman Odeh, the head of Joint List, saying that he supports terrorism,” Mendel said.
Netanyahu, who served as deputy chief of mission in Washington and then as UN ambassador in the 1980s, knows all too well the influence that Israeli envoys can have in the United States, and the importance of hasbara, the Hebrew term for the dissemination of positive PR.
It was while Netanyahu was serving in New York as UN ambassador that he first got to know Trump, one of many contacts from that time that the prime minister has used to his advantage.
"I've known Gilad for many years. I’m familiar with his skill, experience, expertise, and commitment to defend the State of Israel," Netanyahu said in a video statement.
Erdan said after his appointment: "I'm proud and excited for the privilege to fight for our truth in the world and to defend Israel against the expected challenges."
Some Israeli analysts have criticised the 49-year-old's lack of diplomatic experience, as he takes on two high-profile jobs.
He is not the first to assume both portfolios, however, with veteran Israeli diplomat Abba Eban taking the roles in the 1950s.
Erdan has a long history of heated statements and discriminatory policies against Palestinians in Israel and the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem.
Khaled Zabarqa, a Palestinian lawyer and human rights activist, told MEE that Erdan's legacy is transforming Israeli policing in East Jerusalem and Israel into a political tool - to implement discriminatory government policies against Palestinians.
"During Erdan's term, we saw the increase of Israel's police violations against Palestinians in East Jerusalem. There were many cases where Palestinians were fatally shot or killed on suspicion of carrying out attacks," he said.
"Erdan managed to institutionalise racism and incitement against Palestinians inside Israel, just because they are Arabs."
Zabarqa added that Erdan was one of the driving forces behind Israel's efforts to change the status quo at Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa compound, adding that he encouraged Israeli settlers to visit and tour the sacred Muslim site.
'Erdan managed to institutionalise racism and incitement against Palestinians inside Israel'
- Khaled Zabarqa, lawyer and human rights activist
Jordan's King Abdullah II is the official custodian of Al-Aqsa Mosque and its surrounding holy sites, one of the most important sites in Islam.
His kingdom's religious Waqf organisation has administered the compound in Jerusalem's Old City since the 1967 Middle East war.
Jews believe the site is also the location of the Jewish Temple razed by the Romans in the 1st century, and Israeli settlers often attempt to pray there in contravention of strict regulations.
"Erdan did not respect any deals between Israel and Jordan, which is the custodian of the Muslim and Christian holy places in Jerusalem. He played a role in trying to alter the identity of the place," Zabarqa said.
In August, Erdan suggested that the custodianship and control of the Al-Aqsa compound should be revised, saying: "I think there is injustice in the status quo that has existed since ’67".
In November 2017, Erdan, then Israel's interior minister, ordered police to instal new cameras at the Council Gate of Al-Aqsa Mosque to monitor Palestinian worshippers' entry and exit. He backed down after widespread Palestinian protests.
Meanwhile, Erdan has forced the closure of several Palestinian institutions in Jerusalem, including al-Aytam school, which hosts the office of the Palestinian Authority's ministry of education, the offices of Palestine TV, the Orient House, the Palestinian Prisoners Club and the Commercial Chamber.
In January 2018, Erdan urged the Israeli government to annex settlements in the West Bank, saying that "the time has come to express our Biblical right to the land, adding that Israel should not miss the opportunity of having Trump in the White House.
He also accused Palestinian citizens of Israel, who make up 20 percent of the country’s population, of "arson terrorism" after forest fires swept through some northern parts of the country in November 2016. His accusations turned out to be unfounded.