With Nikki Haley’s departure, Israel loses its staunchest ally at the UN
AnalysisSuccessor will find it hard to match Haley's pro-Israel zeal

With Nikki Haley’s departure, Israel loses its staunchest ally at the UN

The US envoy was an AIPAC rockstar and one of the most popular Trump officials. Whoever replaces her may have a hard time filling her heels in the eyes of the pro-Israel community

Eric Cortellessa

Eric Cortellessa covers American politics for The Times of Israel.

Illustrative: US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley voting against a Security Council resolution on Jerusalem on December 18, 2017. (Eskinder Debebe/UN)
Illustrative: US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley voting against a Security Council resolution on Jerusalem on December 18, 2017. (Eskinder Debebe/UN)

WASHINGTON — With Nikki Haley’s surprise resignation Tuesday as US ambassador to the United Nations, Israel will be losing its most outspoken champion at the world body, a figure dubbed “Hurricane Haley” by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for her muscular defense of the Jewish state in front of an often hostile crowd.

Sitting in the Oval Office Tuesday morning, not even an hour after news broke of her departure, Haley listed what she considered her achievements in the diplomatic posting. Chief among them was standing up to the UN’s “anti-Israel bias” and defending the Trump administration moving the US embassy to Jerusalem.

It’s not clear who will take Haley’s place — US President Donald Trump said he would name a successor in a few weeks — but it’s safe to say they will be somebody simpatico with Trump on America’s place vis-a-vis the UN and defending Israel there.

It’s harder to say whether whoever does get the nod — some have speculated the president’s daughter Ivanka could get the job — will be able to match Haley’s zeal as an Israel supporter in Turtle Bay.

Haley’s predecessor, Samantha Power, also spoke out loudly against anti-Israel bias at the UN, but it was a smaller part of her role as envoy, and she never earned the kind of cheers Haley did from the pro-Israel community. Power, moreover, represented the Obama administration when it allowed an anti-settlement Security Council resolution to pass by withholding the US veto in December 2016.

Haley’s tenure in New York was widely noted — and, in some corners, criticized — for its defiance in the face of international diplomats who challenged US President Donald Trump’s approach to the intractable Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“Her departure was unanticipated and took the pro-Israel community by surprise,” Matt Brooks, the Republican Jewish Coalition CEO, said on Twitter. “Stunned and shocked by the surprise resignation of @nikkihaley as UN Amb. She was a consequential and impactful force at the UN.”

Beyond rhetorically supporting the embassy move, she was a major proponent of the United States exiting the UN Human Rights Council, citing its reflexively critical posture toward Israel, cutting aid to UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, and blocking a resolution condemning Israel as responsible for the deaths at Gaza border clashes this spring.

US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley speaks at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) policy conference in Washington, DC, on March 5, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / Nicholas Kamm)

For those moves, she was treated as a rockstar when she spoke before the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s (AIPAC) annual conference the last two years.

At her first address before the confab, in 2017, she told the crowd of 20,000 that “there’s a new sheriff in town” to massive applause.

“I wear heels. It’s not for a fashion statement,” she said. “It’s because if I see something wrong, we’re going to kick ’em every single time.”

Those words came shortly after Trump assumed office and vowed to reverse course of the Obama administration, which allowed passage of a Security Resolution in December 2016 that condemned Israel for its settlement enterprise.

Haley, like her boss, often bucked precedents set by past administrations to not weigh in on final-status issues on the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, the most sensitive issues that veteran negotiators have long insisted should not be dealt with until the conclusion of peace negotiations.

US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, left, speaks to Israel Ambassador to the United Nations Danny Danon before a Security Council meeting on the situation between the Israelis and the Palestinians, Friday, June 1, 2018 at United Nations headquarters. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

Most notably, she has questioned the Palestinians’ claim to a “right of return,” in which all Arabs who were displaced between 1947 and 1949, including millions of their descendants, would “return” to modern Israel.

UNRWA claims there are more than five million registered Palestinian refugees, when there were roughly 750,000 after the 1948 war, of whom it is estimated tens of thousands are still alive. Unlike every other refugee population, which shrinks every year, the Palestinian one exponentially increases.

The Palestinians claim that five million people — tens of thousands of original refugees from what is today’s Israel, and their millions of descendants — have a “right of return.” Israel’s population is almost nine million, some three-quarters of whom are Jewish. An influx of millions of Palestinians would mean Israel could no longer be a Jewish-majority state. Israel claims a “right of return” is a non-starter in negotiations, as it would abrogate Israel’s Jewish majority and character as a Jewish state.

In August, Haley publicly sided with Israel, saying the Palestinian “right of return” should be taken “off the table. “I absolutely think we have to look at right of return,” she said during an appearance at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, a DC-based think tank closely aligned with Israel.

Asked whether the issue should be “off the table,” Haley replied: “I do agree with that, and I think we have to look at this in terms of what’s happening [with refugees] in Syria, what’s happening in Venezuela.”

Haley also criticized the way UNRWA recognized Palestinian refugees when the Trump administration cut aid to the agency. “You’re looking at the fact that, yes, there’s an endless number of refugees that continue to get assistance,” she said, while insisting that the Trump White House would not restore its previous funding levels unless the body made dramatic reforms.

“We will be a donor if [UNRWA] reforms what it does … if they actually change the number of refugees to an accurate account, we will look back at partnering with them,” she said, adding that “the Palestinians continue to bash America” and yet “they have their hand out wanting UNRWA money.”

Longtime Israel watchers in the United States said that Haley focused on Israel more than past US ambassadors. “She speaks about Israel a lot, more than Susan Rice and Samantha Power did,” Elliott Abrams, a hawkish diplomat who served as deputy national security adviser to President George W. Bush, told McClatchy last month.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haly on Friday, 28 September 2018 in New York. Avi Ohayon /GPO

Haley created controversy in December 2017 when she pressured other countries to refrain from voting in favor of a resolution that censured the United States for recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. The resolution passed 128 to 9, and Haley gave a speech indicating that Washington would not forget who voted against it.

“We will remember it when we are called upon once again to make the world’s largest contribution to the United Nations,” she said of the vote. “And we will remember when so many countries come calling on us, as they so often do, to pay even more and to use our influence for their benefit.”

Critics said the move seemed like she was bullying other countries, and not acting like a diplomat.  Haley later held a party for countries that votes with the United States — who she deemed “America’s friends.”

US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley walks out of the chamber as Palestinian Ambassador Riyad Mansour begins to speak at a UN Security Council meeting concerning the violence at the border of Israel and the Gaza Strip, at United Nations headquarters, May 15, 2018 in New York City. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images/AFP)

Haley was also criticized for blocking former Palestinian prime minister Salaam Fayad from being appointed as the UN’s special envoy for Libya. “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.

Fayad was widely seen in Washington as a moderate voice in the Palestinian political scene. As prime minister, he advocated negotiations with Israel and “taking a page out of the Zionist playbook” by building a Palestinian state institutionally. He was eventually booted out by PA President Mahmoud Abbas.

Israeli officials were quick to hail Haley Tuesday after she announced her departure. Her Israeli counterpart, Danny Danon, told Haley in a statement that “wherever you are, you will continue to be a true friend of the State of Israel.”

In the Oval Office Tuesday, Trump said Haley would stay in her position through the end of the year. He said a successor would be named in two to three weeks but did not name any prospective candidates.

Twitter users began to speculate that perhaps his daughter, Ivanka Trump, could be nominated. One of the president’s biggest supporters, the right-wing firebrand Ann Coulter, suggested her almost immediately after Haley’s resignation was announced.

Indeed, the president’s Jewish daughter was considered a possibility as to replace Haley as early as November 2017, with Politico Magazine running a story saying that White House officials had already floated the idea.

“It’s not as crazy as it sounds,” the piece’s author, Richard Gowan, said.

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