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US vetoes UN job for former Palestinian prime minister

February 11, 2017

The US administration of Donald Trump has blocked the appointment of Salam Fayyad, the former Palestinian prime minister, to a senior United Nations post in a decision Palestinian officials said was based solely on his nationality. 

Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the UN, announced the decision on Friday, saying that Washington was disappointed by a letter written by António Guterres, secretary-general, supporting Mr Fayyad as the world body’s envoy to Libya. 

Mr Fayyad, 64, who served as prime minister of the Palestinian Authority from 2007 to 2013, had been due to replace Germany’s Martin Kobler in the role. 

“For too long the UN has been unfairly biased in favour of the Palestinian Authority to the detriment of our allies in Israel,” Ms Haley said. “The United States does not currently recognise a Palestinian state or support the signal this appointment would send within the United Nations, however, we encourage the two sides to come together directly on a solution.” 

She added: “Going forward the United States will act, not just talk, in support of our allies.” 

The decision to block Mr Fayyad’s candidacy brought an angry response from Ramallah, where one senior official described it as “a case of blatant discrimination on the basis of national identity”. 

“It defies logic that the appointment of the most qualified candidate is blocked because it is perceived as detrimental to Israel,” Hanan Ashrawi said in a statement on Saturday. “It constitutes a blanket licence for the exclusion of Palestinians everywhere.” 

Ms Ashrawi, who is a member of the executive council of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, the Palestinians’ political umbrella group, said that Mr Fayyad was “a person of the highest standards of professionalism and integrity”. 

During his tenure as prime minister, Mr Fayyad gained respect among foreign donors, including the US, as a technocrat and reformer in a Palestinian Authority dogged by persistent allegations of corruption.

”We hope that saner voices will prevail and that the US will take back this irrational and discriminatory decision immediately and not deprive the UN of such a highly qualified individual,” Ms Ashrawi said. “Rather, they should block petty acts of bigotry and vindictiveness and the further victimisation of the Palestinian people for the mere fact of their existence.” 

The US decision will fuel further speculation about the Trump administration’s policy toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict ahead of a visit to Washington by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu next week.

Palestinians and pro-peace Israelis have voiced fears that the new president, who has named hardline pro-Israel figures among his advisers on the region, will tilt heavily toward Israel in the unresolved conflict. 

In an interview published on Friday with Israel Hayom, the pro-Netanyahu newspaper, Mr Trump said that he thought the US would have “a better relationship” with Israel now, and said he had “good chemistry” with Mr Netanyahu, who he described as a “good man”. 

The US president voiced subdued criticism of Israel’s illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, where Mr Netanyahu’s rightwing government has moved forward with plans to build more than 6,000 new homes since the Trump administration took office on January 20. 

“They [settlements] don’t help the process. I can say that,” Mr Trump said. “And every time you take land for settlements, there is less land left.” 

However, he said that Israel “has had a long history of condemnation and difficulty”, and he did not “want to be condemning Israel.”

I understand Israel very well, and I respect Israel a lot, and they have been through a lot,” he said “I would like to see peace and beyond that. And I think that peace for Israel would be a good thing for the Israeli people, not just a good thing, a great thing.” 

Mr Trump has named Jared Kushner, his son-in-law, as an envoy to the Middle East, with a brief to broker a peace deal. The last round of Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations broke down in 2014.

Via FT