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.
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 what she called 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 whoever does get the nod — some have speculated it could be the president’s daughter Ivanka — will have a hard time matching Haley’s zeal as an Israel supporter.
Haley’s predecessor, Samantha Power, also spoke out against anti-Israel bias at the UN, but wasn’t automatically defensive of Israel no matter what.
She was also a critic of Israeli expansionism and represented the Obama administration when it allowed an anti-settlement Security Council resolution to pass in December 2016.
Haley’s tenure in New York was widely noted for its defiance in the face of international diplomats who challenged US President Donald Trump’s approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“Her departure was unanticipated and took the pro-Israel community by surprise,” Matt Brooks, the Republican Jewish Coalition CEO, tweeted. “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 this spring condemning Israel as responsible for the deaths at Gaza border clashes.
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.
Haley, like her boss, often bucked precedents set by past administrations to not weigh in on the most sensitive issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that veteran negotiators have long insisted should not be dealt with until the conclusion of peace negotiations.
Most notably, she has questioned the Palestinians’ claim to a “right of return.” Under that framework, all Arabs who were displaced between 1947 and 1949, including millions of their descendants, would be able to 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.
The Palestinians claim that five million people are eligible for refugee status.
Israel’s population is almost nine million, some three-quarters of whom are Jewish. An influx of millions of Palestinians, Jerusalem argues, would mean Israel could no longer be a Jewish-majority state. Israel claims a “right of return” is a non-starter in negotiations.
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.”
Longtime Israel watchers 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.
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 that Haley was acting more like a bully than a diplomat. Haley later held a party for countries that votes with the United States — who she deemed “America’s friends.”
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,” she said at the time.
Fayad was widely seen in Washington as a moderate voice. 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 of his leadership post by PA President Mahmoud Abbas.
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.
People on Twitter 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.
Trump should replace Nikki Haley with Ivanka.
— Ann Coulter (@AnnCoulter) October 9, 2018
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.