William Harrop, nominated to be the next U.S. ambassador to Israel, is a close friend of President Bush and therefore will likely have a high level of credibility in his new post, officials in the pro-Israel community say.
Harrop, a 62-year-old career foreign service officer, is a tennis partner of the president’s. He is expected to be confirmed to replace William Brown before Congress adjourns for the year.
At a routine confirmation hearing Tuesday, Harrop faced easy questioning from the two senators on the Foreign Relations Committee who showed up: Terry Sanford (D-N.C.) and James Jeffords (R-Vt.).
Harrop is perceived as "the president’s own man," in that he was personally picked by Bush rather than through any significant screening process, said one official.
An Israeli Embassy official said, "I know Bill Harrop. I met with him. I think he’ll be a wonderful ambassador like all the other ambassadors were" in recent years.
Harrop, who joined the State Department in 1954, is not considered an ideologue, although most of his recent assignments have dealt with Africa, including a stint from 1977 to 1980 as deputy assistant secretary of state for African affairs.
Harrop most recently served as U.S. ambassador to Zaire and earlier was chief envoy to Kenya, the Seychelles and Guinea.
He told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency on Tuesday that it is "nonsense" to think he would bring a Third World sensibility and, by extension, a pro-Arab approach to the job.
"I’ve worked a lot in Africa, but I’ve also worked in Australia" and Italy, Harrop said after the hearing. "I think you’ll find that I am very much aware of the historic relationship with Israel and the importance of maintaining that relationship," he said.
CRITICAL OF ISRAELI ECONOMY
The weekly Israeli news magazine Jerusalem Report published a story this summer saying that some Israeli officials were nervous about a statement Harrop made to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 1978, when he reportedly said he did not consider the Palestine Liberation Organization to be a terrorist organization.
But one source in the pro-Israel community dismissed that statement as not being "anything of any consequence," since the State Department has traditionally argued that the PLO as a whole does not engage in terrorism.
The ambassador-designate has been making the rounds to Jewish groups during the last two months, including a meeting in October with the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.
At the hearing Tuesday, Harrop vowed to help move Israel "more toward a true-market economy and to try to move beyond some of the historical restrictions on economic activity."
Such "rigidities" as government ownership of companies and import quotas are "only gradually being dismantled," he said. He also called Israel’s 11 percent unemployment rate "a cause for worry."
When asked about future U.S. arms sales to the Middle East, Harrop said it is important to "find a way for each country to be satisfied by its own defense and not only be afraid of its neighbors."
"We have a flat commitment to the Israelis to maintain some edge for them militarily in the area," he said, adding that Israel could count on that in the future.
Harrop was born in Baltimore and received a bachelor’s degree from Harvard University. He and his wife, Ann, have four children.
Brown, who speaks fluent Hebrew, has been U.S. ambassador since early 1989, when he replaced Thomas Pickering, now the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.