The Trump peace plan may mark the “last chance” for the Palestinians, and the key to the Palestinians realizing this will lie with the response to the plan by Arab countries, the former US ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, said Monday.
Speaking in Tel Aviv on the eve of US President Donald Trump’s unveiling of the so-called Deal of the Century, Haley acknowledged that the Palestinian leadership has “said they’re not going to come to the table.” But she urged her audience to “watch what the Arab countries do, because that’s going to be telling as to whether this can actually happen or not.”
Elaborating, Haley said that “if the Arab countries respond favorably to the plan, or even if they don’t run to the Palestinian side, that’s going to be a huge, telling lesson to the Palestinians that they may not have the backing they had before… My hope is that you see the Arab community try and move this forward because they, too, realize that this [conflict] has to get to a resolution.”
Haley was speaking at the opening event for the “Israel Center on Addiction,” established in 2018, which aims to advance addiction treatment, prevention, training and policy on a blight that it says affects 500,000 Israelis.
Interviewed by ICA Public Council member Danna Azrieli, chair of the Azrieli Group, Haley made clear that she didn’t expect these unnamed Arab countries to “wholeheartedly support the plan,” but she did anticipate what she called “an openness to come together. And that’s going to signal to the Palestinians that this may be their last chance. And I think when presented with the fact that this could be their last chance, it’s an open door.”
“The sad part is the Palestinian Authority has not represented the people well,” she went on. “The Palestinian people want better. It’s the Authority that has not done a good job. And when the Authority realizes that they may not have the friends they felt they did, or they may not have the backing that they thought, I think we could see a big shift.”
Haley, who stepped down as UN ambassador at the end of 2018, and who has not ruled out an eventual presidential run, did not explain what she meant by the “last chance” for the Palestinians. She said she had seen early drafts of the US plan, and that its authors’ “number one priority was always the national security of Israel. We knew that we couldn’t do anything that was going to compromise the security of Israel. But we also knew that the Palestinians deserve a better way of life.”
What is being rolled out, she said, “is a plan that is doable. And what I hope is that it is a plan where everyone will keep an open mind as we go into it, because you do deserve peace.”
“The one thing you won’t see,” she predicted, is “the United States trying to push anything on either side. At the end of the day, this has to be a decision between the Israelis and the Palestinians. And it has to be an investment by the region to see the good in this.”
Haley also offered some personal insight into working with Trump, and into his decision-making process. “Everyone always felt heard,” she said of her time in the administration. “You can have a debate with him. You could share ideas with him. It didn’t mean he was always going to be on your side, but he’s not a rigid person.”
Still, she added, “once he makes a decision and he believes in something, he follows it through. And what he cares about more than anything else is keeping his promises. So when he made the promise to the American people to move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, he felt like he needed to deliver on that.”
Likewise, “when he made the promise that he was going to look at the Iran deal and see if it was a threat, once we were able to put the facts in front of him, and he saw exactly what a national security threat it was, he strongly made a movement to get out of the Iran deal. So, so much of it is by what you put in front of him. And how you convince him.”
Recalling her time at the UN, and working to change what she called “this obsession over Israel,” Haley traced its origins to 1967. “After the 1967 war, [Israel’s enemies] realized that they would never be able to defeat Israel on the battlefield. And so they went for the one option that they had, which was to go after Israel diplomatically. At the time, there were a lot of the Arab countries that had a lot of money and a lot of oil. And so the smaller countries had no choice but to listen to them. So when they said, Vote against Israel, these countries didn’t vote against Israel because of a hatred towards Israel; these countries voted against Israel because of the oil, because of the money.”
By the time she got to the UN in January 2017, those voting patterns had long since become “a habit. It was just what they did… They would bash Israel… But when you ask those countries [that backed anti-Israel votes] what they really think, they don’t hate Israel. They’ve done it because they always have.”
And when she asked the Arab countries why they were so hard on this, “they said they did it for their constituencies. They really didn’t care if the resolution was passed.
“When you asked all the other countries, they actually were inspired by Israel. They really do see a lot of good in Israel… I think we have to stay down that path. I think it’s important that we continue to tell the story of Israel, not just in the plight with the Palestinians. We should be talking about the innovation that happens in Israel, the way they educate. The fact that they’re getting involved with [tackling] addictions, the fact that they have a lot to offer the world, because I think Israel is so much more than just the Israeli-Palestinian issue. But we have to get that story out.”
Asked if she was saying that many of the countries that vote against Israel really don’t actually hate Israel, Haley replied: “They really don’t hate you as much as they think. It is a habit that we have to break.”
“It’s an addiction,” prompted Azrieli, referencing the Israel Center on Addiction event and prompting laughs from Haley and the audience.
“And what’s the thing we do with an addiction?” retorted Haley. “First, we have to make them acknowledge and confess that they have a problem. I tried to do that. We tried to convince them they had a problem.”
Ultimately, Haley also said, the anti-Israel resolutions don’t actually matter. “They don’t matter. They matter about as much as the one they did against us for moving the embassy to Jerusalem. We did it anyway.”