In response to US opposition, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres defended his decision to appoint former Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad as the new UN envoy to Libya. His spokesman Stephan Dujarric argued the world organisation’s staff are chosen on the basis of merit, “serve in their personal capacity [and] do not represent any government or country.” Donald Trump’s UN ambassador Nikki Haley said the administration did not “support the signal this appointment would send within the United Nations” since Palestine does not have full membership.
This is true enough but since a General Assembly vote in 2012 Palestine has had “non-member observer state” status in the UN system. Naturally, the US and Israel and seven allies voted against the resolution while 138 voted for and 41 abstained. This upgrade from “observer” to “observer state” was highly significant as Palestine was once again accorded recognition as a state by the overwhelming membership of the UN.
In 2015, the Assembly adopted a resolution approving the raising of the flags of “non-member observer states” at UN headquarters in New York and at UN offices where members flags are displayed. The US and Israel again voted against the measure and were joined by six allies. They lost one backer on this vote. The raising of the flag was particularly important because the UN press release of the day stated that the “General Assembly had sent an important message to the Palestinian people at a critical time. While raising the flag would not end the occupation, it would signify to the Palestinian people everywhere that the international community supported them.”
Indeed, this is exactly what the US objects to. Since the establishment of Israel by war and ethnic cleansing in 1948, the General Assembly has repeatedly reaffirmed the existence and recognised the rights of the Palestinian people, to the chagrin of Israel and its main international partner, the US. They were mightily upset when Palestine Liberation Organisation chairman Yasser Arafat was invited to address the Assembly in November 1974 where — in an address modeled on the “I have a dream speech” given in 1963 by US African-American activist Martin Luther King — appealed to the UN to share the Palestinian “dream..for a peaceful future in Palestine’s sacred land,” the dream of an end to occupation, exile and an independent state.
If Israel and the US had listened to Arafat’s words in 1974, it would have been relatively easy to end the Palestinian-Israeli conflict then through the “two-state solution.” But that route was not taken because of Israeli colonisation with the complicity of the US and the Western powers. Since then the “two-state solution” has been swamped by Israeli cement and stone, bricks and mortar, military camps and farms. Palestinians no longer expect the occupation to end although the international community pays lip service to the dead and buried “two-state solution.”
It is ironic that Haley argued, “For too long the UN has been unfairly biased in favour of the Palestinian Authority to the detriment of our allies in Israel.” The irony rests in her background: her parents hailed from Amritsar in India, a country which until recent years traditionally supported the Palestinians in their struggle for recognition as a people and freedom. Her family bought the “American dream.” She served in the South Carolina state house of representatives and in 2011 was elected South Carolina governor where she emerged as a strong supporter of Israel. During her tenure she became the first state governor to sign into law a bill to ban the campaign of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement designed to exert pressure on Israel to end the occupation.
While Haley speaks for the administration at the UN in New York, Trump has constant contact with two aides. The first is son-in-law Jared Kushner, 36, a businessman with no experience in diplomacy who is expected by Trump to “do peace.” Kushner is an Orthodox Jew by religion and supporter of Israel through his family connections with both the country and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, a friend of his father. Kushner’s wealthy family has donated to the Beit El colony in the occupied West Bank; Trump also provided $10,000 (Dhs36,700) to build a religious school in honour of David Friedman, a strong supporter of Beit El who has been nominated to be the US ambassador to Israel. The colony, designated illegal in international law, raises about $2 million (Dhs7.34m) a year in the US.
The second is Stephen Miller, 31, a far-right promoter with little experience in making policy who has drafted Trump’s controversial executive orders. An advocate of strong action against migrants, Miller is a keen advocate of the wall on the US-Mexican border. He presided over Trump’s bungled ban on the entry into the US of citizens from seven Muslim countries. Although raised in a liberal family, Miller became a conservative while in school. After university, he worked for Republican members of Congress until joining the Trump campaign as speech writer. He was paired with Steve Bannon, formerly head of a far-right news agency and Trump’s chief strategist. Bannon and Miller were the prime movers of the Muslim banning order. A long time friend of white nationalist leader Richard Spencer, Miller calls for working with allies to destroy Daesh, notably with “our greatest ally in the region, the State of Israel.”
A third close aid, retired Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, an impulsive individual like Trump, has been forced to resign as his national security adviser due to contacts before inauguration with the Russian ambassador in Washington. Flynn’s departure should be welcomed in this region has he has insulted Islam, threatened Iran, and has adopted strongly pro-Israel stances. His departure should be seen as positive.
Haley may speak of the UN’s “bias against Israel,” but that bias cannot overcome the longstanding US alliance with Israel which is unlikely to weaken during the Trump administration.
The author, a well-respected observer of Middle East affairs, has three books on the Arab-Israeli conflict