The United States on Friday blocked the appointment of the former Palestinian prime minister to lead the UN political mission in Libya, saying it was acting to support its ally Israel.
U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley Friday said the Trump administration "was disappointed" to see that UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres had sent a letter to the Security Council indicating his intention to appoint Salam Fayyad, who served as the Palestinian Authority's prime minister from 2007-2013, as the next UN special representative to 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.
Palestine is a non-member observer state at the United Nations and its independence has been recognized by 137 of the 193 UN member nations. But Haley said the United States doesn't currently recognize a Palestinian state "or support the signal" Fayyad's appointment would send within the United Nations.
UN diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity because discussions have been private, said Fayyad is well-respected for his work in reforming the Palestinian Authority and spurring its economy and had the support of the 14 other Security Council members to succeed Martin Kobler in the Libya job.
Despite opposition to Fayyad, Haley indicated that the Trump administration wants to see an end to the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
"We encourage the two sides to come together directly on a solution," she said.
Haley's statement came ahead of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's scheduled meeting at the White House with President Donald Trump on February 15, and was welcomed by Israelis.
"This is the beginning of a new era at the UN, an era where the U.S. stands firmly behind Israel against any and all attempts to harm the Jewish State," Israel's UN Ambassador Danny Danon said of the U.S. decision to block Fayyad's appointment. "The new administration proved once again that it stands firmly alongside the state of Israel in the international arena and in the UN in particular."
The new U.S. ambassador made clear that "going forward, the United States will act, not just talk, in support of our allies."
But Trump also indicated in comments to an Israeli newspaper Friday that there might be some difficult discussions with Netanyahu next week on Israel's settlement expansion. The U.S. leader was quoted as saying that Israel's settlement expansion in land claimed by the Palestinians does not advance peace.
Israel's settlement building has been a key obstacle to the revival of stalled peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians. Most of the international community considers all Israeli settlements in territory the Palestinians want for a state in Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem illegal and counterproductive to peace.
While the Palestinian Authority has so far kept mum about the U.S. block of Fayyad's appointment, the Palestinian Liberation Organization issued a strong criticism, accusing the U.S. of pro-Isael bias.
"It defies logic that the appointment of the most qualified candidate is blocked because it is perceived as detrimental to Israel," PLO Executive Committee Member Hanan Ashrawi said in a statement. "It constitutes a blanket license for the exclusion of Palestinians everywhere."