With one act, the administration of Donald Trump has made two Middle East conflicts harder to resolve. By blocking Salam Fayyad, a respected former Palestinian prime minister, from becoming the United Nation’s new special envoy to Libya, Trump’s team undermined the UN’s efforts to solve the crisis in Libya, kept a uniquely qualified candidate from taking on a role in which he might have had a real impact, and prevented the reemergence of a moderate Palestinian leader who could potentially play a major role in a future peace deal between Israel and Palestine.
UN Secretary-General António Guterres announced his decision to appoint Fayyad as envoy to Libya on February 9, after coordinating that decision with the members of the UN Security Council, including the United States. Then came the surprising statement released by the United States’ UN ambassador, Nikki Haley, the next afternoon. The United States had serious concerns about Fayyad’s appointment, Haley suggested, because of his nationality and previous position with the Palestinian Authority. “For too long the UN has been unfairly biased in favor of the Palestinian Authority to the detriment of our allies in Israel,” Haley said. “The United States does not recognize a Palestinian state or support the signal this appointment would send within the United Nations.” If Israelis don’t get UN appointments and are condemned disproportionately by its Human Rights Council and its other bodies, the logic runs, then even a Palestinian widely recognized for his competence and moderation shouldn’t receive a UN posting.
There is no question that Israel has been discriminated against at the United Nations for decades. But if Washington wants to rectify that treatment, blocking a respected international technocrat on the basis of his nationality is the wrong move: it will create further resentment at the same global body Israel is trying to win over, especially among its European members. It will also hinder the UN’s ability to influence events on the ground in Libya
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