Amid what appears to be a serious rethink in the Trump administration regarding its policy toward Israeli building in Yehudah and Shomron, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley took a clear-cut action on behalf of Israel at the Security Council on Friday, blocking the appointment of a former Palestinian prime minister as envoy to Libya.
Haley said that Washington “was disappointed” to see that Secretary-General Antonio Guterres had nominated Salam Fayyad, who served as the Palestinian Authority’s prime minister from 2007-2013, as the next U.N. special representative to Libya.
“For too long the U.N. has been unfairly biased in favor of the Palestinian Authority to the detriment of our allies in Israel,” Haley said.
Israel welcomed the decision. “This is the beginning of a new era at the U.N., an era where the U.S. stands firmly behind Israel against any and all attempts to harm the Jewish State,” Israel’s U.N. Ambassador Danny Danon said.
It was a reassuring move at a time when a cloud of uncertainty has lately obscured the Trump administration’s pronouncements in support of Israel. Moving the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Yerushalayim may have already been relegated to the file of “Ideas whose time have not yet come,” even for the gung-ho Trump team.
And even though Washington, for the first time in eight years, did not condemn Israeli announcements of new building in Yehudah and Shomron, a recent comment, that such things “might not be helpful to the peace process,” was another indication that President Donald Trump will not necessarily be the American version of Naftali Bennett and the advocates of annexation.
The defense offered for Guterres’ choice for the Libyan post seemed disingenuous. The U.N. chief’s spokesman, Stephane Dujarric, said that it “was solely based on Mr. Fayyad’s recognized personal qualities and his competence for that position.” As if his resume simply found its way to the top of the pile, courtesy of the latest software for impartially evaluating job applications.
It is true that Fayyad, a U.S.-trained economist, has earned a reputation as a moderate respected by all parties, including the Israelis (Hamas reportedly hates him, a character recommendation in itself), and that he might well make an effective representative in Libya.
But it is hard to believe that Guterres could not find a single qualified candidate from the 193 member states, and had to go to the Palestinian non-member observer to fill the position. The political context speaks for itself. It was clearly an attempt to grant yet another increment of undeserved legitimacy to the Palestinians.
The fact that Fayyad would serve as an individual who happens to have a Palestinian background, not as an official representative of the Palestinian Authority, is immaterial. Haley was right in reminding everyone that the United States doesn’t currently recognize a Palestinian state, and would not “support the signal” Fayyad’s appointment would send within the international body.
It seemed curious that an experienced diplomat like Guterres would stumble like this, proposing a Palestinian candidate for a high-profile post without first consulting the U.S. to be sure of its support in the Security Council.
However, a report in Foreign Policy magazine provides a credible explanation: According to diplomatic sources, “senior U.S. officials in Washington and New York assured Guterres and other diplomats that they would accept him for the job. …” Under the impression there would be no opposition, it was wall-to-wall shock when Haley apparently reversed field.
A U.S. official denied that Haley had ever approved Fayyad for the job. No one would go on the record, though. Haley’s office declined to comment. The State Department and the National Security Council wouldn’t talk about it either.
It’s been suggested, of course, that this is another example of the confusion that reigns in the Trump administration, that the inexperienced team of outsiders hasn’t yet got the hang of the complexities of making and implementing policy. It could be. Were it otherwise, we would expect immediate strong denials from Haley and the State Department.
But even if such a turnabout did occur, the final result was a sign that the new administration does intend to do the right thing for Israel, even if it makes the Palestinians and their friends unhappy.
At the same time, it will not do to blindside someone like Guterres, who is said to be relatively friendly to Israel. Reports that emerged on Sunday that he is considering an Israeli for the position of deputy secretary-general is further indication that he might be willing to introduce some balance into the one-sidedly anti-Israel bias of the U.N.
In which case, the Trump administration will have to learn to work with him, not against him.