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Incoming US envoy Thomas-Greenfield vows to 'stand with Israel' at UN

Linda Thomas-Greenfield said at confirmation hearing she would pressure normalising Arab countries to support Israel at UN
The nominee denounced BDS, saying the Palestinian-led movement 'verges on antisemitism' (AFP)
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Washington

Incoming US envoy to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield has pledged to shield Israel from what she called "unfair targeting", saying she would pressure Arab states that recently normalised relations with the Israeli government to support the country at international forums. 

At a Senate confirmation hearing on Wednesday, Thomas-Greenfield faced several queries from legislators about Israel and how she would work to fend off international criticism against Israeli policies.

She consistently agreed with the premise of the questions - that the United Nations and its agencies are hostile to Israel and regularly "single out" its government. 

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"If I am confirmed as the US ambassador to the United Nations, I look forward to standing with Israel - standing against the unfair targeting of Israel, the relentless resolutions that are proposed against Israel unfairly," Thomas-Greenfield said.

"I hope to work closely and look forward in fact to working closely with the Israeli embassy, with the Israeli ambassador to work to bolster Israel's security, and to expand economic opportunities for Israelis and Americans alike, and widen the circle of peace. 

"I think it goes without saying that Israel has no closer friend than the United States, and I will reflect that in my actions at the United Nations."

Washington has used its veto power at the UN Security Council dozens of times to block resolutions condemning Israeli abuses against Palestinians.

In his final weeks in office, late in 2016, then-President Barack Obama refused to block a measure denouncing Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem as a "flagrant violation under international law".

'Unsurprising'

Palestinian rights advocates have long dismissed the argument that seeking accountability for abuses by the Israeli government under international law is "singling out Israel" as a ploy to protect Israel from legitimate criticism. 

Some of America's closest allies, including the UK and France, have signed on to UN measures decrying the Israeli occupation and continued settlement expansion. 

Thomas-Greenfield, however, said she will be seeking unlikely partners in her quest to quash UN criticism of Israel - Arab states.

"We need to push those countries to change their approach at the United Nations," the incoming envoy said of Arab governments that recently normalised relations with Israel.

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"If they're going to recognise Israel in Abraham accords, they need to recognise Israel's rights at the United Nations, and I will use my perch if I'm confirmed as the UN ambassador to push them on this effort."

Former President Donald Trump brokered normalisation agreements between Israel and the UAE, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco.

The incoming envoy denounced the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which seeks to non-violently pressure Israel to end its abuses against Palestinians.

"I find the actions and the approach that BDS has taken toward Israel unacceptable. It verges on antisemitism, and it is important that they not be allowed to have a voice at the United Nations, and I intend to work very strongly against that," she said.

Late on Wednesday, progressive US Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib pushed back against Thomas-Greenfield's pledge to combat BDS at the UN.

"With respect to the Ambassador-designate, BDS is a matter of protected speech, human rights, & human dignity. Nonviolent boycott has always been a hallmark of the struggles for equality and justice for all - which Israel has long denied Palestinians under the occupation," Tlaib wrote on Twitter.

"Comments and commitments like these undermine the rights to free speech and protest, and risk a chilling effect on dissent and resistance. I hope she reconsiders because my grandmother & other Palestinians deserve to voice their dissent on the unequal conditions thrust upon them."

Hatem Abudayyeh, national chair of the US Palestinian Community Network (USPCN), voiced dismay at Thomas-Greenfield's remarks, saying it is "unfortunate" but "unsurprising" that Biden's nominee for UN envoy is an apologist for the "apartheid state of Israel".

"We knew from the get-go that Biden would not reverse Trump's moving of the US embassy to Jerusalem, that he had made public his support for Arab reactionary regimes' normalisation with Israel, and that he had declared famously on the Senate floor that the US empire needed to vigorously support Israel to defend US interests in the Arab World," Abudayyeh told MEE.

"But we did not expect that this confirmation hearing would spend such an inordinate amount of time on Israel at the expense of all the other pressing issues in the world." 

Rejoining UN agencies

The Trump administration pulled Washington out of many UN agencies - including the international body's cultural organisation Unesco and the Human Rights Council, citing what US officials called at the time "anti-Israel bias".

Trump also cut off funding to the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA), which provides education and healthcare services to millions of Palestinians displaced across the Middle East.

'Israel has no closer friend than the United States, and I will reflect that in my actions'

- Linda Thomas-Greenfield, US nominee for UN envoy

On Wednesday, Thomas-Greenfield said the US would re-engage in the international organisations that Trump quit to convey its grievances and steer the conversation internally.

"President Biden has indicated that we will run to rejoin the Human Rights Council in Geneva because - again - when we're at the table, there are fewer resolutions against Israel," she said. 

"We can push back on human rights violators who want to be legitimised by sitting at the table; we can encourage our allies who are like-minded to join the Human Rights Commission; we can support their elections, and we can work from inside to make the organisation better. If we're on the outside. We have no voice."

Thomas-Greenfield,a former assistant secretary of state for African affairs, is expected to be confirmed later this week. Other nominees, including the secretaries of defence, state and treasury have already been confirmed by the Senate with bipartisan support.