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Netanyahu Appoints Right-Wing Politician as Israeli Ambassador to U.N.

JERUSALEM — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel on Friday named a hawkish political rival who opposes a Palestinian state as his next ambassador to the United Nations.

The naming of Danny Danon as the new ambassador is the latest in a string of appointments by Mr. Netanyahu that indicate he will not bow to mounting international criticism and efforts to isolate Israel.

Mr. Danon is an ambitious, headline-grabbing young politician who has called for Israel to annex all West Bank settlements, annul the Oslo Peace Accords and allow Jews to pray on the Temple Mount. He has described the Obama administration’s criticism of Israeli construction in East Jerusalem as racist and said the United States is not an honest broker between Israel and the Palestinians.

Less than two weeks ago, Mr. 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. The next ambassador to London is expected to be Mark Regev, Mr. Netanyahu’s longtime spokesman and the only one of the four who is a professional diplomat.

“The message is there will be no progress in the diplomatic process in the foreseeable future,” said Anshel Pfeffer, a columnist for the left-leaning Israeli newspaper Haaretz. He described Mr. Dayan, Ms. Nirenstein and Mr. Regev as “media warriors” whose top assets are their savvy in defending Israel on television.

In appointing Mr. Danon to a position Mr. Netanyahu held himself in the 1980s, Mr. Netanyahu said, “The U.N. is an important forum right now, and I am convinced that Danny will fight with all his power to present the truth in the international arena.”

Many analysts said the move was as much about domestic politics as foreign policy, as Mr. Netanyahu removes a frequent critic from his own camp from the local scene.

Mr. Netanyahu, in his third consecutive term as prime minister, is leading the most conservative Israeli government in two decades and doubling as his own foreign minister. Alon Liel, a former director of Israel’s foreign ministry, said the appointments showed Mr. Netanyahu’s disdain for the diplomatic corps, which is generally more moderate than the government’s ministers.

“This is a right-wing government; it’s not a center-right government,” Mr. Liel said. “The message goes through, I think, that Israel is not surrendering on the issue of two states.”

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has recently faded from the world stage amid focus on the Iranian nuclear deal and the rise of the Islamic State. But President 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 Mr. Netanyahu’s waffling on his commitment to the two-state solution.

Opposition politicians in Israel said Mr. Danon’s elevation would revive anti-Israel fervor around the world. The center-left Zionist Union faction of Israel’s Parliament issued a statement calling it “another nail in the coffin” that Mr. Netanyahu was “putting in Israel’s foreign relations,” and one of its lawmakers, Erel Margalit, denounced Mr. Danon as “a right-wing extremist with the diplomatic sensitivity of a pit bull.”

A senior Palestinian official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of a policy against commenting on Israeli appointments, said that having Mr. Danon at the United Nations would help the Palestinian position because “he represents the government’s agenda without euphemism.”

Mr. Danon, 44, did not respond to a voice mail message on Friday. In the official announcement, he was quoted as thanking Mr. Netanyahu for trusting him “to represent Israel at the U.N. during this challenging period.”

Mr. Danon, first elected to Parliament in 2009, is a relentless self-promoter who has challenged Mr. Netanyahu for titular leadership of their Likud Party. He often issues news releases with provocative, quotable statements. He likened the Iran deal to “providing a pyromaniac with matches,” decried President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority as having hands “drenched with the blood of innocent civilians,” and said Secretary of State John Kerry was “disconnected from the reality on the ground and is ignoring the basic security needs of Israel.”

A 2013 New Republic profile said Mr. Danon was “doing everything he can to push his party — and his country — to the right.”

Mr. Netanyahu fired Mr. Danon as deputy defense minister last summer for openly criticizing Israel’s prosecution of the war against Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip. He also disavowed Mr. Danon’s article in Politico accusing Mr. Kerry of asking “Israel to negotiate with a loaded gun to our heads” and of trying to “scare the Israeli public into capitulation.”

Mr. Danon had tried to torpedo Mr. Kerry’s peace talks by saying that a majority of Mr. Netanyahu’s government and Likud leaders opposed a two-state solution, and by threatening to quit if the prime minister released more Palestinian prisoners as promised.

“The international community can say whatever they want, and we can do whatever we want,” he told The Times of Israel at the time.

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(via NY Times)