U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley said Tuesday that “Israel wants a peace agreement but it doesn’t need one,” signaling the Trump administration’s embrace of Israel’s security-centered approach that may not include a Palestinian state as it works to craft a Middle East peace plan.
Giving what is probably her final U.N. address on the Middle East before she leaves office this month, Haley said Palestinians would gain “far greater control over their political future” under a peace agreement, but that phrase stops well short of pledges from previous U.S. administrations to support a sovereign Palestinian nation.
The promised White House peace plan, spearheaded by Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law and adviser, has been repeatedly delayed and is now expected to be released in early 2019. Palestinians have boycotted meeting with U.S. envoys since Trump announced more than a year ago that the United States would recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
Haley said she has read the plan, which has been kept secret from Israeli and Palestinian leaders as well as from Congress and U.S. allies. She urged U.N. members to keep an open mind, even as she criticized the world body as “hopelessly biased” against Israel.
Her brief remarks contained no specifics. But they still provided the clearest view of the framework that Trump’s peace team has in mind, focused on Israel’s security concerns while offering the Palestinians economic opportunity but an uncertain amount of self-determination.
All recent U.S.-backed peace efforts before the Trump administration have started from the premise that the goal was an independent Palestinian state.
Haley said the administration’s plan starts from the assumption that “the Palestinians would benefit more, and the Israelis would risk more,” from a settlement.
“Like the Israelis, they are a deservedly proud people,” she said of the Palestinians. “They, too, do not need to accept a peace agreement at any price. But the condition of the Palestinian people is very different.”
Haley then laid out the administration’s case for the benefits the Palestinians could receive under a deal.
“What awaits the Palestinian people with a peace agreement are the prospects of a massive improvement in the quality of their lives and far greater control over their political future,” she said. “It is time we faced a hard truth: Both sides would benefit greatly from a peace agreement, but the Palestinians would benefit more, and the Israelis would risk more.”
Haley urged other nations — chiefly Arab and European states that have traditionally been part of peacemaking efforts — to support Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.
She said the plan offers a “choice between a hopeful future that sheds the tired, old and unrealistic demands of the past, or a darker future that sticks with the proven failed talking points.”
That was principally a reference to the Palestinian demands for a return of all land occupied by Israel since the 1967 Arab wars, a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem and the return of Palestinians or their descendants to land that is now part of Israel.
Arab and European states have publicly backed those demands, which Haley suggested had given Palestinians false hope.
Haley has made support for Israel and criticism of what she calls international Israel-bashing a hallmark of her nearly two-year tenure as U.N. envoy. She is celebrated by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and conservative pro-Israel groups in the United States, a potential building block for a future Republican presidential bid.
Haley has said she does not intend to run in 2020 and will campaign in support of Trump’s reelection. The former South Carolina governor is widely considered a rising star in the GOP and a potential presidential candidate in 2024.
Haley announced in October that she would step down from her post at the end of the year, meaning she will have no official role in the peace plan rollout next year. She will leave the Trump administration with greater national and international stature, and without the political damage or legal peril that has characterized other high-profile administration departures.
Trump said in late September that he planned to release the peace package within four months. The administration hopes to reveal the plan and begin negotiations far ahead of Israeli elections, which are likely to take place before a November deadline next year.
In the last year, the Trump administration has taken actions to distance itself from the Palestinians. It cut off $200 million in U.S. aid for Palestinians in several Middle East countries, ended more than $300 million that paid a third of the budget for the U.N. Relief and Works Agency and redirected $25 million for Palestinians hospitalized in East Jerusalem. It also ordered the Palestine Liberation Organization office in Washington to close and shuttered a U.S. consulate in East Jerusalem that served Palestinians.
Underscoring the urgency of resuming peace talks, Nikolay Mladenov, the U.N. coordinator for the Middle East peace process, told the U.N. Security Council that violence has escalated in the past three months in the Palestinian territories of Gaza and the West Bank.
In all, 75 Palestinians and seven Israelis have been killed, Mladenov said. His assessment of the negative trends on the ground was bleak. He noted that Palestinians had celebrated the killing of Israelis and that Israelis had called for harsh measures in response to the violence.
He repeated traditional international goals for a peace deal, including a sovereign Palestinian state.
Speaking after Haley, Kuwaiti U.N. Ambassador Mansour al-Otaibi said Kuwait and other Arab countries would reject any proposal that did not include an independent Palestinian state and the right of return, neither of which are expected to be part of the U.S. peace plan.
He said Gaza and the West Bank have become more dangerous “due to crimes perpetrated by Israel, the occupying force.” He called on Israel to end all “illegal and illegitimate settlement activity,” including in East Jerusalem.
Eight European countries with permanent or temporary seats on the Security Council issued a statement calling for negotiations that bring about two sovereign nations based on the 1967 borders, with Jerusalem as the future capital of both states.
“Any peace plan that fails to recognize these internationally agreed parameters would risk being condemned to failure,” said the joint statement by Belgium, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland and Sweden.
At the Security Council, the Europeans repeatedly mentioned their support for Resolution 2334, passed two years ago this month. It called settlements an obstacle to peace, and demanded an immediate halt to settlement construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The Obama administration abstained, so it passed on a vote of 14 to 0.
But several of the European envoys said they feared that settlement construction was causing the goal of a two-state solution to slip away. Mladenov said plans to build 2,200 units had been advanced or approved in the last quarter of this year, most of them in East Jerusalem.
“We have neared the point of no return,” said Francois Delattre, the French ambassador. “Fractured territorial integrity is taking place before our eyes. The culmination of this process will spell the abandonment of national aspirations for Palestinians. For Israelis, it will spell the renunciation of the dramatic nature of the state of Israel. The fates of Israelis and Palestinians are entwined.”