The Foreign Service Journal, January-February 2016

56 JANUARY-FEBRUARY 2016 | THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL T hirty years ago, the late FSO Samuel W. Lewis ended an eight-year tenure (1977-1985) as the United States ambassador to Israel. Besides being the longest-serving U.S. diplomatic representative to Israel, he was almost certainly the most popular. Prior to his appointment, Lewis, a career Foreign Service officer since 1954, had served in Italy, Brazil and Washington, D.C. Only his 1975-1977 assignment as head of the Bureau of International Organization Affairs had given him any firsthand experience with the Arab-Israeli dispute. Lewis recalled many years later that he had been offered the choice of an ambassadorship to India, South Africa or Israel. Because it offered “a unique and extraordinary kind of chal- lenge,” as Lewis recounted in his 1998 oral history for the Asso- ciation for Diplomatic Studies and Training, he chose Israel. That decision proved momentous. From the time he arrived in Tel Aviv on May 18, 1977, Ambas- sador Lewis was an active participant in the Israeli-Egyptian diplomatic breakthrough. Though he modestly described himself FS HERITAGE Samuel Lewis in Israel, 1977-1985 Samuel Lewis’ ambassadorship in Israel demonstrates how a professional diplomat can have an important influence on the shaping of foreign policy. BY YOAV J . TENEMBAUM Yoav J. Tenembaum lectures in the graduate diplomacy studies programat Tel Aviv University. He has published numerous articles on diplomatic, political, historical and philosophical topics in foreign and Americanmagazines and newspapers, including The Foreign Service Journal (“The Role of the Diplomat in the Modern Era,” January 2010) . as a mere “postman” relaying messages from the Israeli government to Egyptian President Anwar Sadat prior to Sadat’s historic visit to Israel on Nov. 19, 1977, Lewis was intimately involved in the negotiations between the two countries. President Jimmy Carter (quoted by G.R. Berridge in Diplomacy: Theory and Prac- tice ) said that he always looked forward to reading Lewis’ analyses on Israel, which he found both enlightening and helpful. Few are the American diplomats whose cables reach the desk of the U.S. president. Fewer still are those whose cables he reads with interest. Carter summoned Lewis to participate in the Camp David Summit, which he convened in September 1978. Those talks would lead to the signing of the Framework Agreements for Peace between Israel and Egypt on Sept. 17, 1978. Lewis had been involved in the secret diplomatic discussions aimed at preparing the U.S. delegation for the crucial conference. A Good Beginning Following the Likud Party’s electoral victory on May 17, 1977, Amb. Lewis urged the Carter administration to treat the new prime minister, Menachem Begin—widely regarded as obdu- rate and extremist—gently. Honey was preferable to vinegar, he stressed. As Begin prepared to make his first official visit to Washing- ton as prime minister, National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzez- inski urged the president to tell Begin in no uncertain terms that his positions on the future of the West Bank and Gaza were totally unacceptable. Lewis reiterated that adopting a harsh line U.S. Ambassador Samuel Lewis (left) greets Israel's Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan in Tel Aviv in September 1977. THEWORLDCOMESTOJERUSALEM