Former Palestinian prime minister Salam Fayyad..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Cultivating moderate Palestinian leadership is an Israeli interest. That is why it was disappointing to see the US voice opposition to the appointment of former Palestinian Authority prime minister Salam Fayyad as the UN’s 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,” US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley said in a statement. “The United States does not currently recognize a Palestinian state or support the signal this appointment would send with the United Nations...”
It was also discouraging to see Israeli leaders come out in support of Haley’s move.
Our UN ambassador, Danny Danon, praised Haley’s decision to block the appointment, saying “This is the beginning of a new era at the UN, an era where the US stands firmly behind Israel against any and all attempts to harm the Jewish state.”
To which harm is Danon referring? It is true that the UN is a place of biased anti-Israel diplomacy, but the appointment of Fayyad would not be construed as de facto recognition of a Palestinian state as Haley hinted. One need not be a representative of a state to be appointed a UN representative.
Fayyad has proven to be one of the most rational and moderate Palestinian leaders, and has received widespread praise from a broad spectrum of Israeli officials. No single man has done more to fight corruption and institute transparency within the Palestinian Authority than Fayyad.
As finance minister and then as prime minister under PA Presidents Yasser Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas, Fayyad strove to end the money laundering, the slush funds and the huge embezzlements that characterized – and still plague – Palestinian politics. He spearheaded the investigation of money and other assets controlled by Arafat and by anyone else connected to the PA.
As noted by The New York Times in 2003, Fayyad “tracked down PA assets in 79 commercial ventures... He published the results as they came in, identifying the officials involved, centralizing the investments under a new supervising agency, and laying plans to sell them off.”
Fayyad salvaged and returned to the Palestinian people hundreds of millions of dollars in donors’ funds.
As prime minister he continued to fight corruption. But he also took a principled stance against unilateral measures.
He expressed skepticism about the utility of Abbas’s campaign in the UN to gain support for a Palestinian state.
Fayyad rejected cooperation with Hamas. He threatened to step down if Abbas went ahead with the creation of a unity government with Hamas.
Unfortunately, Fayyad was pushed out of the Palestinian leadership because the US and other Western countries refused to support him. The Obama administration and the State Department were fully aware of Fayyad’s important work. But they failed to support him in his confrontations with Abbas for fear weakening the corrupt Abbas would lead to a power vacuum from which only Hamas would benefit.
The US has an opportunity to support Fayyad, if not within the PA at least as a diplomat in the UN. While the move would not bring about much needed transparency in PA governance, it would send an important message that the US supports what Thomas Friedman referred to as “Fayyadism,” by which he meant “delivering transparent, accountable administration and services,” but also a pragmatic, bottom-up approach to Palestinian state-building.
And if Israel worked together with the US on this it could set the tone for relations with the newly appointed UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who is said to be a strong supporter of Israel. Guterres is reportedly mulling the appointment of Zionist Union MK and former foreign minister Tzipi Livni as a deputy secretary-general in the UN.
“It’s time there was reciprocity in the treatment of Israel, and you can’t keep giving free gifts to the Palestinian side,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at Sunday’s cabinet meeting. “It’s time they give status and appointments to the Israeli side as well, if he [Fayyad] is appointed.”
It is rare that Palestinian politics produces a leader who is truly moderate and a force for good. Fayyad is an exception in a landscape of leaders who openly support terrorism, preach hatred, incite, glorify terrorist and are corrupt. US – and Israeli – support for Fayyad’s appointment would be an important statement on what kind of Palestinian leadership is conducive to coexistence and peace.