NEW YORK – When US President Barack Obama first tapped Samantha Power as ambassador to the UN in 2013, Israeli officials and media figures treated her record – militantly opposed to Western voyeurism in Syria and publicly critical of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians – as an indication of the president’s direction on the Middle East entering his second term.
Judging South Carolina Governor, Nikki Haley, her likely successor, based on similar metrics, Israelis now expect a shift in its favor at the UN and against a growing movement to boycott, divest from and sanction the Jewish state given renewed energy last week after the Security Council voted to condemn Israel’s settlement activity as an illegal enterprise.
And yet reality has a way of complicating these prognostications.
Power, much to her dismay, ultimately failed to convince the president to consider force as a serious option in stopping mass atrocities in Syria, where hundreds of thousands of civilians have been slaughtered.
Her role in the president’s deliberation over the vote on Resolution 2334 is not yet known.
Haley has been quiet since the Council took action, allowing her future boss, President-elect Donald Trump, to take the lead. It’s a dynamic likely to continue, and one the conservative governor is likely to embrace given the incoming president’s expressed hostility toward the international body.
While Haley has sparred with Trump on a host of issues – disagreeing during the campaign with his passive stance on Syria and embrace of Russia – she seems in line with Trump on how Israel should be treated at the body she will soon call home. More than serving as a loyal foot soldier, Haley’s past positions suggest she will enthusiastically work alongside Trump to defend Israel from the internationalization of its conflict with the Palestinians.
Characterizing the UN as “sad” and vowing change on US voting patterns on Israel after January 20, Trump is already setting a busy agenda for Haley’s first days in the job. Fixation at the UN on Israel will be her chief argument in a renewed Republican assault on the organization, which relies on generous congressional appropriations for basic functions.
Republican-led confirmation hearings are sure to focus on her willingness to threaten fellow UN members with a congressional suspension of aid to several UN bodies that work more on Israel-related issues than on the rest of the world combined.
And she will likely be challenged to come up with a road map as to how she will work to reverse Resolution 2334.
Without broad experience in foreign policy, Haley will soon wade deep into one of the world’s most intractable conflicts. Obama’s decision to abstain from Resolution 2334 and allow its passage will complicate that journey and make her work all the more important to Israel and its advocates.