WASHINGTON – Amidst an onslaught of Congressional criticism, US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley defended UNRWA, the UN agency responsible for aiding Palestinians. “I will say there’s also good that comes out of UNRWA: what they do with the schools and healthcare. You do see value in it,” Haley said on Wednesday when speaking before the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
The former South Carolina Governor was responding to harsh attacks on the UN Relief and Works Agency including by Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL). The Florida lawmaker called for the closing of UNRWA, noting that the organization’s “mandate extended lamentably through June 2020. Three more years of this is unacceptable.” Ros-Lehtinen charged that UNRWA’s activities contributed to incitement against Israel.
When commenting on the importance of UNRWA’s schools given the difficult conditions that Palestinians often face, Haley explained, “There is so much resentment between the Palestinians behind that fence and Israel: that an uneducated Palestinian versus an educated Palestinian.” Rep. Scott Perry (R-PN) then interrupted Haley and asked her how much longer should the United States continue to fund UNRWA given the perceived lack of reforms. Haley responded, “The schooling and the health care for those groups in there (Palestinians), I mean, there’s no other place for them to get it. There’s a population there that does need to have that.”
At the same time, the US Ambassador also called on UNRWA to ensure that all of the Palestinians the agency serve are actually refugees, in addition to reviewing their textbooks to remove incitement. Haley also slammed the UN Human Rights Council for its “abusive” and hypocritical policies against the Jewish state.
While Senators Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Lindsay Graham (R-SC) introduced legislation in January to defund the UN until Security Council Resolution 2334 is repealed, which condemned Israeli settlement construction, Haley expressed wariness at the ability to reverse 2334. Trump’s Ambassador to the UN emphasized that the December UNSC resolution is “very hard to repeal now that it’s done.”
Representative Lee Zeldin (R-NY) lashed out at UNSC 2334 calling the resolution “anti-Jewish” while questioning Haley and added that the resolution “seeked to ethnically cleanse Judea, Samaria and East Jerusalem.” The New York lawmaker also asked Haley to take a position on the Taylor Force Act, legislation that would end US economic assistance to the Palestinian Authority (PA) until terror payments ended. However, the US Ambassador did not directly answer whether she supported the Taylor Force Act of completely cutting off US assistance. Instead, she stressed the importance of the PA ceasing its stipends for families of terrorists. Zeldin also blasted former top Obama administration official Ben Rhodes calling him the “taxpayer funded White House fiction writer.”
“Let’s hope that we can try to establish a more positive relationship with Russia that will help bring peace to that part of the world (Middle East) and help all of us,” urged Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA). The FBI warned Rohrabacher that Russian spies were trying to recruit him, according to a May New York Times investigation.
Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-TX) asked about Trump’s openness to support both a one state and two state solution depending on the parties’ preference while noting that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was not present during this critical decision. Haley acknowledged that “I agree with you. Communication was weird.”
Haley also took the opportunity to praise senior advisor Jared Kushner’s efforts to reach a long lasting peace agreement. “When it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, I think he’s (Kushner) being very effective in terms of when I was there, there’s hope. I felt it. Both sides realized they’ve got to come to the table.”
Republican Chris Smith of New Jersey also called on Haley and the administration to appoint a special envoy to combat anti-Semitism, a position that has remained vacant. Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL) urged the US Ambassador to increase the administration’s efforts to secure the release of US citizen Bob Levinson, likely detained in Iran.
Haley was testifying for the second consecutive day before Congress. On Tuesday, she appeared before the House Appropriations State and Foreign Operations Subcommittee where she promised to block the appointment of any Palestinian official for a senior role at the UN.