The UN, Salam Fayyad and Israel

Was the US prejudiced in its opposition to the appointment of Salam Fayyad to be the UN's envoy to Libya, when even Israel did not raise a firm objection?

THEN-PALESTINIAN AUTHORITY Prime Minister Salam Fayyad arriving at a meeting in Ramallah in 2012. (photo credit: REUTERS)
THEN-PALESTINIAN AUTHORITY Prime Minister Salam Fayyad arriving at a meeting in Ramallah in 2012.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is to be commended for recommending former Palestinian prime minister Salam Fayyad as UN representative for Libya, overseeing the UN’s support mission there.
I have known Fayyad – who also served as finance minister in the Palestinian Authority before becoming prime minister – for some 15 years and had an opportunity to work with him on a variety of issues, including in my capacity as minister of justice and attorney-general of Canada, and then during my time as a member of Parliament.
I found Fayyad to be a responsive and active leader in matters relating to combating the culture of corruption in the Palestinian Authority – upholding the rule of law, combating incitement and condemning terrorism. In a word, Fayyad was engaged in state building for the Palestinian people as distinct from denying statehood for the Jewish people – concerned more with preparing the Palestinian people for creating a responsible and accountable independent Palestinian state rather than expending Palestinian resources in obsessing against Israel.
Indeed, I recall sitting in his office on more than one occasion when he countered a hateful Palestinian communiqué or opposed a PA “internationalization initiative” at the UN or elsewhere, actions that did not endear him to many in the Palestinian leadership.
Accordingly, it was surprising to see United States Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley first green-lighting Fayyad’s appointment, and then surprisingly opposing it, saying “for too long the UN has been unfairly biased in favor of the Palestinian Authority to the detriment of our allies in Israel,” adding that the US “does not currently recognize a Palestinian state or support the signal this appointment would send within the United Nations.”
While Ambassador Haley is correct about the UN singling out Israel for selective and discriminatory treatment, her criticism ignores the salient fact that Fayyad was being recommended for appointment irrespective of his nationality – not because he was a Palestinian, but because of his effective track record, which dovetailed well with the needs for the mission to Libya.
It is equally surprising that the Israeli ambassador to the UN addressed the issue through the lens of Fayyad being appointed because he was a Palestinian rather than because he might have merited the position regardless of his nationality. Said Ambassador Danny Danon in praising the US decision to oppose Fayyad’s appointment: “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.”
But the Guterres decision had nothing to do with harming the Jewish state or with prejudicial UN action against Israel.
It had nothing to do with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, let alone the suggestion that this was implied recognition of a Palestinian state. Simply put, one need not be a representative of a state to be a UN representative, and many like Fayyad are appointed without reference to their nationality.
Indeed, even Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who felt that the prospective appointment “lacked reciprocity” in that an Israeli was not being appointed to a UN position, did not appear to appreciate that Fayyad’s nationality was not at issue.
Even if regard were to be had to reciprocity – which would otherwise be a legitimate concern – that the UN secretary-general had otherwise asked former Israel justice and foreign minister Tzipi Livni to be deputy secretary-general, frankly, it is hard to understand why Israeli officials weighed in on this at all, as it had nothing to do with Israel or with Palestinian nationality, and everything to do with the qualities of the person being recommended.
Regrettably, the overheated political environment that underpins the Israeli- Palestinian conflict seems to invite people to make comments when sometimes the issue has nothing to do with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at all. The appointment of a qualified person to a UN role gets confused with the accumulated baggage of a historical UN bias against Israel, thereby clouding people’s vision and understanding.
The result is gratuitous comments that, however inadvertent, appear to impugn the appointment, if not the nationality of the appointee, and impute bias where it is not the case, thereby also misrepresenting the secretary-general’s actions and gratuitously making Israel the issue.
There is enough cause to take issue with the United Nations where it warrants. As The Jerusalem Post itself put it in its February 13 editorial “Support Fayyad,” he is “an exception in a landscape of leaders who openly support terrorism, preach hatred, incite... 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.”
It could also support Israel working with the UN secretary-general at the outset of his mandate, rather than opposing him.
Irwin Cotler is former minister of justice and attorney-general of Canada, a longtime parliamentarian and emeritus professor of law at McGill University.