U.S. Reportedly Signed Off on Fayyad for UN Job Before Abruptly Vetoing the Appointment

Diplomats suspect the White House intervened in the last minute to block the former Palestinian prime minister's appointment as head of UN mission to Libya, Foreign Policy reports.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres shaking hands with new U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley in New York, January 27, 2017.
Bryan R. Smith, AFP

The U.S. had signed off on former Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad's appointment as the head of the UN mission to Libya before suddenly coming out against the choice, Foreign Policy reported Saturday. 

According to the report, senior U.S. officials assured UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in recent days that they would accept the former Palestinian leader for the job. But on Friday, U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley announced the opposite.

UN-based diplomats told Foreign Policy they understood the U.S. mission and the State Department had already signed off on Fayyad. The sources said they suspect that the White House intervened in the last minute to veto the choice.

Diplomats noted Fayyad has been the frontrunner for the job for more than a month, meaning that the U.S. and the other key Security Council members had time to voice opposition. 

Instead, Haley declared the U.S. will not support the pick two days after Guterres, the UN chief, sent a letter to the Security Council announcing his intention to make the appointment. 

According to diplomatic sources, diplomats in the U.S. and other Security Council member states were caught off guard by Haley's announcement. 

Then-U.S. President Barack Obama watches a cultural event alongside then-Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad at the Al Bireh Youth Center in Ramallah, March 21, 2013.
Jason Reed, Reuters

“I am not sure they know what they are doing anymore,” one Security Council diplomat was cited as saying. U.S. “career diplomats seemed to be shocked by the decision,” he said.

A second Security Council diplomat told Foreign Policy that “The thing I’m sure is that Nikki Haley’s reaction was driven by D.C. It’s really a pity." 

Stephane Dujarric, a spokesman for the UN chief, told Foreign Policy that “based on the information available to him at the time, the secretary-general had the perception, now proven wrong, that the proposal would be acceptable to Security Council members.”

In a separate statement, Dujarric noted that no Israeli or Palestinian diplomat had ever served in a key UN post, and that Guterres wanted to remedy that.

A U.S. official denied that Haley had okayed Fayyad for the UN job.

In her Friday statement, Haley said the Trump administration "was disappointed" to see that Guterres had sought to appoint 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 U.S. doesn't currently recognize a Palestinian state "or support the signal" Fayyad's appointment would send within the UN.

UN diplomats 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.

Israel's envoy to the UN, Danny Danon, released an enthusiastic statement of support for the U.S. decision. But two senior officials in Jerusalem, as well as a source at the UN Secretariat in New York, told Haaretz that Israeli government had no involvement in the release of the American statement, and it did not lead an effort against Fayyad.