WASHINGTON — The early years of the Trump administration were troubled by intense internal divisions on US-Israel policy, former US ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley writes in her new book.
Many of US President Donald Trump’s major decisions on the region — moving the US embassy to Jerusalem, pulling out of the Iran nuclear deal and withdrawing aid from the UN agency for Palestinians — sparked strong objections from White House personnel and attempts from members of the cabinet and staffers to direct the president away from what he wanted to do.
In a new memoir titled “With All Due Respect,” Haley depicts former secretary of state Rex Tillerson as her biggest adversary in the administration.
While she supported relocating America’s embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, he and others on the National Security Council vehemently objected.
“I supported the move. It was simply common sense,” Haley writes. “Embassies are located in capitals. In virtually every country in the world, the U.S. embassy is located in the host country’s capital city. Israel should be no different.”
“But others in the cabinet and White House disagreed,” she went on. “They argued that moving the embassy would set off violence that would damage the peace process, such that it was … In every meeting of the president’s cabinet and national security advisors, there was a faction that seemed to think they, not the president, should make the final decision when it came to policy.”
These attempts to defy the president’s wishes, Haley writes, were particularly pronounced when Trump was deliberating whether to order the embassy move.
“When the National Security Council met to consider moving the embassy in Israel, the members of this faction were out in force,” she says. “They implied in every way that if the president did this, the sky would fall. They thought they could team up and spin the president — and they tried. Some, like Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, seemed to be thinking primarily about how the decision would affect their reputation. He declared in the middle of the meeting that he wanted to be on record opposing the move.”
In December 2017, Trump formally recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and announced the new embassy in Jerusalem, which opened in May 2018.
Haley’s book, which hit book shelves Tuesday, recounts her three years in Turtle Bay as Trump’s envoy. It includes an entire section on Israel, titled “Changing the Culture.”
It starts with her first meeting with the UN Security Council, on its regular Consultation on the Situation in the Middle East, which she described as unduly focused on Israel to the exclusion of other, more pressing regional issues.
“All of us have heard stories of unfairness and dysfunction at the United Nations,” she writes. “We’ve heard about the anti-Israel bias. I was prepared for some of that when I walked into this meeting. I was not prepared for how bad it was.”
The February 2017 meeting, she says, ignored Syria’s use of chemical weapons, Hezbollah building up an illegal arms arsenal, and Hamas’s terror activities — which she says she came to recognize was the norm, not the exception.
“Only Israel and the Palestinians are on the agenda,” she writes. “And only one country is singled out for blame — Israel. It’s just one of the symptoms of the United Nations’ obsession with the world’s only Jewish state.”
Part of her goal to “change the culture” at the UN, she says, was to change the conversation at that regular meeting away from Israel.
“We occasionally talked about Israel,” she writes. “Israel isn’t perfect. But that was never our focus.”
In the book, Haley castigates the UN’s persistent focus on Israel as a disincentive toward Palestinians to engage in peace talks with Jerusalem.
“The culture of anti-Israel bias at the UN makes peace less likely,” she writes. “It sends the false message to the Palestinians that they can achieve their goals by relying on the UN rather than direct negotiations with Israel. And it sends the accurate message to Israelis that they can never trust the UN.”
Haley spent a chunk of the chapter on why she supported the Trump administration’s move to cut aid to UNRWA, the UN agency that provides humanitarian relief to the Palestinians.
“Instead of alleviating dependency, UNRWA encourages multi-generational dependency on international aid,” she writes. “Palestinian refugees are funded forever through UNRWA, with no end in sight.”
On this issue, too, she writes, Tillerson strongly objected.
Haley recounts a meeting she had with Trump, Tillerson, and the president’s former chief of staff John Kelly, in which the two argued about the idea.
“There would be threats to Israel (as if there weren’t plenty of those already),” Haley writes, mimicking Tillerson. “Most of all, he said, we would upset the Arab countries who were supposed to be essential to helping with the peace process.”
Haley says that Trump told the two of them to work out their disagreements and come back to him with a proposal. Kelly, for his part, was not happy with all of the competing voices trying to influence Trump’s foreign policy thinking — from Haley and Tillerson, to his former national security adviser H.R. McMaster and son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner.
“I have four secretaries of state: you, H.R., Jared, and Rex,” Kelly told Haley shortly after that meeting, according to the book. “I only need one.”
Haley uses that portion of the book to criticize Tillerson and Kelly for disobeying Trump — an act they reportedly saw as necessary for the health of the nation. “Kelly and Tillerson confided in me that when they resisted the president, they weren’t being insubordinate, they were trying to save the country,” Haley writes.
Tillerson authorized a $60m donation to UNRWA — without the permission of the president, Haley says — before he was fired in March 2018. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who succeeded him, cut the UNRWA aid in August 2018.
“It was a pleasure and a relief to work with a Secretary of State who actually supported the president’s agenda and didn’t seek to undermine him,” she writes.