Reporting from Washington — President Obama is nominating a top foreign policy aide, Daniel B. Shapiro, as ambassador to Israel — tapping for the sensitive diplomatic post a Hebrew-speaking Middle East specialist who has been in charge of outreach to the American Jewish community.
If he wins Senate confirmation, Shapiro, whose nomination was announced Wednesday, will replace James Cunningham, a George W. Bush appointee who will be rotating out of the job later this year.
Shapiro, 41, who is the National Security Council's top Mideast expert, would lead the embassy at a difficult time in U.S.-Israeli relations. Talks between the Israelis and Palestinians have broken down, leaving the peace process stalled. The Obama administration has clashed with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over Israeli settlements in disputed territories, creating awkward moments between the allies.
White House officials were angered when Israel announced new housing construction in East Jerusalem during a visit by Vice President Joe Biden last year.
Obama has traveled widely since taking office in January 2009, but he has yet to visit Israel.
Part of Shapiro's job has been to explain U.S. policy to the American Jewish community through regular phone briefings. He played a similar role for Obama during the 2008 presidential campaign.
Jewish leaders praised the nomination.
"Dan's appointment will be very well received both by the American Jewish community and by Israel as well," said Alan Solow, chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. "He has a long record of activity in these issues and service to President Obama, and I'm sure he will bring great credibility and knowledge to the new position."
In his post at the NSC, Shapiro has helped shape the U.S. response to the turmoil rippling across the Middle East and North Africa.