Ambassador to Tunisia: Who Is Jake Walles?
Saturday, February 04, 2012
The North African nation of Tunisia, where the recent wave of Arab revolutions began in December 2010, will soon have a new Ambassador from the United States. President Barack Obama on December 14, 2011, nominated career diplomat Jacob “Jake” Walles for the post, which would be his first ambassadorship, although he has extensive experience in Middle East relations.
Born in July 1957 in Wilmington, Delaware, Walles earned a B.A. at Wesleyan University in 1979 and an M.A. at the School of Advanced International Studies of Johns Hopkins University in 1981. He joined the State Department in 1982, and was immediately posted overseas, to serve as Vice Consul at the embassy in Amsterdam, Netherlands, from 1982 to 1984.
Over the next decade, he served as first secretary at the embassy in Tel Aviv, Israel, as Special Assistant for the Middle East Peace Process in the Near East Bureau in Washington, DC, and as special assistant to the under secretary for Economic Affairs. He returned to Israel to serve as deputy principal officer at the U.S. consulate in Jerusalem from 1996 to 1998, and then applied his growing Mideast expertise to two stateside assignments, as director of the Office of Israel and Palestinian Affairs from 1998 to 2000, and as acting deputy assistant secretary for Near East Affairs from January to June 2001.
From September 2001 to June 2002, Walles was a member of the 44th Senior Seminar at the State Department. He received his second European posting as deputy chief of mission at the embassy in Athens, Greece, from June 2003 to July 2005, where he coordinated U.S. participation in the 2004 Athens Olympic Games.
Walles went back to Israel for a third time as consul general and chief of mission at the U.S. consulate in Jerusalem from July 2005 to September 2009. As the U.S. diplomat stationed closest to Palestine, Walles was involved in his share of controversy as it often fell to him to be the front man for the George W. Bush administration’s blundering policy towards the Palestinians. After pushing for parliamentary elections in Palestine in 2006, the Bush team, including Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, was caught off guard when voters, tired of the corruption and incompetence of the Fatah party favored by the Americans, gave a legislative majority to Hamas, which the U.S. viewed as an anti-Israel, anti-American terrorist group. At one point Walles met with the Palestinian president, Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas, and promised U.S. support if Abbas would force a military confrontation with Hamas. Fighting between the two groups did break out, but by the time the smoke cleared, Hamas was still in charge of the Gaza Strip.
In January 2008, Walles was involved in a controversy when, at a checkpoint operated by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), he and U.S. Security Coordinator Lt.-Gen. Keith Dayton refused to roll down their windows or open their car doors to show identification. Walles also incurred the ire of the Israeli government in September 2008 when he told a Palestinian newspaper that the Americans and Israelis were willing to negotiate the status of Jerusalem.
After leaving Jerusalem, Walles moved on to a less volatile position, becoming Cyrus Vance fellow for diplomatic studies at the Council on Foreign Relations from late 2009 to early 2010.
Walles returned to the State Department to serve as deputy assistant secretary of state for Near East Affairs from June 2010 to December 2011.
Like most Foreign Service officers, Walles has been relatively non-partisan, but he made an exception in 2008, when he donated $1,450 to Barack Obama’s presidential campaign.
-Matt Bewig, David Wallechinsky
Statement for House Committee on Foreign Affairs Hearing: Promoting Peace? Reexamining U.S. Aid to the Palestinian Authority (pdf)
Jake Walles Cables from Jerusalem (WikiLeaks)
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