US ambassador walks out on Palestine at UN
Extraordinary breach of protocol provokes angry condemnation
Nikki Haley, Donald Trump’s ambassador to the United Nations, had already made her point, defending Israel’s use of lethal force at the border with Gaza and America’s provocative decision to move its embassy to Jerusalem.
Her next action during Tuesday’s emergency session left no one in doubt about the deep rifts at the UN Security Council or her government’s hard-line stance. She gathered her briefing papers, stood and turned her back just as the Palestinian envoy began speaking, before walking out.
The other diplomats offered little reaction but her extraordinary breach of protocol provoked angry condemnation from around the world.
Critics said it revealed the Trump administration’s callous disregard for Palestinian life.
Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, tweeted: “Israeli snipers kill 58 Palestinians along Gaza border fences but Nikki Haley doesn't even want to listen to the representative of the victims.”
The session began with a moment of silence for the 60 protesters killed by Israeli forces on Monday but splits soon emerged.
Ms Haley said Israel had no choice but to defend itself against Hamas extremists armed with flaming kites and Molotov cocktails.
“I ask my colleagues here in the Security Council: Who among us would accept this type of activity on your border?” she asked. “No one would. No country in this chamber would act with more restraint than Israel has.”
A statement drafted by Kuwait condemning the violence and demanding an “independent and transparent investigation” stalled after the US made clear it would block it.
Ms Haley’s exit from the Security Council chamber is a reminder that she shares her President’s hard-line views, even if in the past she had found more delicate ways to communicate them than Mr Trump’s blunt rhetoric.
And it follows the recent appointment of John Bolton as a hawkish National Security Adviser and Mr Trump’s decision last week to abandon the Iran nuclear deal.
For United Nations experts, such as Richard Gowan, associate fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, it all suggests a new reluctance to use the Security Council to contain conflict in the Middle East.
“Trump and Bolton are betting that US hard power and close ties with regional powers like Saudi Arabia will allow them to rewrite the diplomatic rule book,” he said.
What remains to be seen is where that leaves Ms Haley, who had been seen by foreign ambassadors as a moderating influence on the president, he added.
“That was always a bit optimistic, as she is quite as hawkish on Iran and Israel as any other member of the administration,” said Mr Gowan. “But with Bolton gaining the president's ear, her overall influence on administration policy is also reduced.”
Ms Haley has long been seen as a star of this administration. One of the few women in senior positions, the former governor of South Carolina is also one of the few with solid political experience.
She grew up as the daughter of Sikh immigrants from India. Yet today she is known as a Tea Party conservative – tough on illegal immigration, anti-abortion and a firm critic of Obamacare.
From her first day on the job she exuded the tough approach that Mr Trump wanted from his ambassador to the United Nations, making clear that she would be bringing his America first approach to the Security Council.
“For those who don’t have our back, we're taking names,” she said in January 2017.
But at the same time, she won fans among other diplomats for her approach to allies.
“We have always found her very easy to work with, on top of the brief and always ready to talk,” said one senior diplomat from a nation on the Security Council.
Her deft touch in pushing Mr Trump’s agenda while keeping allies onside, prompted a string of glowing profiles. “Can Nikki Haley Save the World?” ran the headline in a New York Magazine piece last year.
She has done nothing to quell speculation that she is positioning herself for a presidential run by pursuing an independent line, frequently distancing herself from the president’s more outlandish rhetoric.
“First of all, he has his communication style, but you're not hearing me defend that," she said in a recent interview with CBS News. “What I will tell you is, if there is anything that he communicates in a way that I'm uncomfortable with, I pick up the phone and call him.”
Whatever her reservations about Mr Trump's style, her actions on Tuesday spoke louder than any words.
Updated: May 16, 2018 07:59 PM