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Palestinians slam US move to block UN Libya envoy

Palestinians have criticized the US after it blocked former Prime Minister Salam Fayyad from taking over the role of United Nations envoy to Libya. The US said the UN was biased against Israel.

A top Palestinian official accused Washington of "blatant discrimination" after the US ambassador to the United Nations blocked the appointment of former Prime Minister Salam Fayyad as peace envoy to war-torn Libya.

UN chief Antonio Guterres nominated the former Palestinian prime minister to the post on Thursday and the 15-member Security Council was expected to approve the new political envoy to Libya.

But on Friday, US ambassador Nikki Haley announced Washington would block the appointment because "for too long, the UN has been unfairly biased in favor of the Palestinian Authority to the detriment of our allies in Israel."

Haley added that the United States "does not currently recognize a Palestinian state or support the signal this appointment would send within the United Nations." Palestinian independence is recognized by 137 of the 193 UN member nations, but the territory is only a non-member observer state at the world body.

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Responding to the US move, Palestine Liberation Organization executive committee member Hanan Ashrawi said on Saturday that blocking the widely respected former prime minister was "a case of blatant discrimination on the basis of national identity."

The US-educated Fayyad, 64, was prime minister of the Palestinian Authority from 2007 to 2013, and also served as finance minister. He has been praised for helping to fight corruption and to build Palestinian public institutions.

Israel's UN Ambassador Danny Danon said the US decision showed Washington stood behind Israel.

"This is the beginning of a new era at the UN, an era where the US stands firmly behind Israel against any and all attempts to harm the Jewish State," Danon said. "The new administration proved once again that it stands firmly alongside the state of Israel in the international arena and in the UN in particular."

Fayyad was to replace Germany's Martin Kobler, who has been the UN envoy to Libya since 2015. 

The UN position plays an important role in supporting a fledging government struggling to restore stability and counter "Islamic State" terrorists and other armed groups that gained traction in the wake of the US-led intervention that ousted longtime strongman Moammar Gadhafi. Stability in Libya is also key for Europe as it struggles to counter an influx of migrants coming across the Mediterranean.

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Without two-state deal ‘no hope of peace’

It was unclear if the United States supported another candidate or when a new UN envoy would be appointed at a time when Libya's security gains are fragile.

The US move comes days ahead of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's February 15 meeting with President Donald Trump in the White House. Netanyahu and the Israeli right have been emboldened by Trump, announcing a series of settlement expansion plans that have met muted resistance from the White House.

But Trump has recently signaled to Israel the United States did not view settlement expansion in land claimed by the Palestinians as helpful in achieving a comprehensive peace agreement, suggesting Washington may apply pressure to reign the Israelis in for at least some of the land grab. 

Washington's decision to block Fayyad's appointment comes six weeks after Trump and Republicans sharply criticized the United Nations for passing a resolution condemning Israel's illegal settlement building. The resolution passed after the Obama administration dropped the United States' traditional diplomatic cover for Israel and abstained from voting,  

At the time, Trump, Republicans in Congress and Israel threatened to take a number of retaliatory measures against the UN.

cw/jlw (AFP, AP, Reuters)

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