Mere minutes after Nikki Haley, the new U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, announced her country's opposition to the appointment of former Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad as head of the UN mission to Libya, Israeli envoy Danny Danon came out with a statement of enthusiastic support for the Americans' move.
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"The new administration proves that it stands with Israel in the international arena at large and at the UN specifically, working toward the two countries' mutual interests," Danon said. "This is the start of a new era at the UN, in which the U.S. stands with Israel against anti-Israeli initiatives."
Contrary to Danon's remarks, Fayyad's appointment wasn't an anti-Israel initiative, and blocking it will neither serve the Israeli interest nor the American one. The Israeli envoy's glee over his American counterpart's strange move points to ignorance and recklessness, if not worse. Here are six reasons why his opposition is clearly foolish.
1. When Fayyad was the Palestinian Authority's finance minister and later prime minister, during the Bush administration, there was consensus in Jerusalem, Washington and the rest of the world over his capabilities, but even more so over his integrity, professionalism and diligence. Fayyad was and remains the Palestinian politician most committed to fighting corruption, building institutions, maintaining the rule of law and curbing terrorism. These are exactly the problems that plague Libya, and Fayyad is the person most suited to address them.
2. Fayyad was the most prominent figure to fight corruption in the Palestinian Authority as well as the transfer of funds to terrorists during the Arafat era. Later, as prime minister, he led the reform in the Palestinian security apparatus, playing a key role in bringing the second intifada to a close. The activity of Fayyad, perhaps the most moderate Palestinian leader, stemmed first and foremost from Palestinian interest, as well as a philosophy of state-building that resembled that of the first Israeli prime minister, David Ben-Gurion. All this garnered Fayyad the appreciation of the Israeli defense establishment and of senior figures in the governments of Ariel Sharon, Ehud Olmert and Benjamin Netanyahu.
3. Fayyad opposed unilateral steps led by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the UN, believing they won't advance the establishment of an independent state. In April 2012, he refused to pass on a letter from Abbas to Netanyahu in which the Palestinian president threatened to dismantle the PA. In November 2012, he opposed Abbas' bid to gain the status of an observer state at the UN. Against the backdrop of these two incidents and other disagreements between the two leaders, Fayyad resigned in April 2013.
4. While Fayyad is Palestinian, he did not seek to become the head of the UN mission in Libya as a representative of the PA. In fact, if there was one figure that wasn't enthusiastic about the appointment, it was President Abbas, who sees Fayyad as a top political rival. Even after Fayyad resigned the premiership Abbas abused him, restricted his activity using the Palestinian security forces and even tried, unsuccessfully, to bring about a criminal case against him. Hamas wasn't pleased with Fayyad's appointment either, due to the organization's interests in Libya, primarily the smuggling of weapons to Gaza. It's surprising that Danon chose to take Abbas and Hamas' side.
5. Fayyad was the candidate preferred by the new UN secretary general, Antonio Guterres. Guterres is perhaps the friendliest UN chief to Israel since the establishment of the institution. Fayyad is one of his first appointments. Sabotaging a new UN chief's appointment requires special talent for diplomatic destruction. Danon's support for blocking the appointment won't win Israel or the envoy any points with the UN chief, and he may remember this incident next time Jerusalem needs him, which isn't a rare occurrence.
6. Israel has been justly complaining about the UN's politicization, and how, for nearly 70 years since the country's establishment, being Israeli has precluded diplomats from being tapped for senior roles in the organization. Danon's message is hypocritical. The envoy has rejected Fayyad not because of his positions but because he was born Palestinian. One could somehow understand Danon's move if the position held any significance for Israel. But the appointment has no direct, and possibly no indirect, implications for Israeli interests. It's unclear, therefore, why Israel needs to stick its nose where it shouldn't.
Conversations with two senior officials in Jerusalem, as well as a source at the UN Secretariat in New York, the Israeli government had no involvement in the release of the American statement, and it did not lead an effort against Fayyad. Nevertheless, Danon's speedy statement created the impression that the American move was coordinated with Israel and perhaps even pushed by it. Such a situation is indescribably harmful to Israeli interests.