Report

Tunisia Sacks U.N. Ambassador for Opposing Trump’s Peace Plan

The country’s newly elected president seeks to maintain good relations with Washington as opposition to the Israeli-Palestinian scheme builds.

A Palestinian protester
A Palestinian protester uses a slingshot during a demonstration against a U.S.-brokered peace proposal in the occupied West Bank village of Bilin near Ramallah on Feb. 7. Abbas Momani/AFP via Getty Images

The diplomatic cost of defending the Palestinians went up this week.

On Thursday, Tunisia’s United Nations ambassador, Moncef Baati, was abruptly summoned to his capital after leading diplomatic negotiations on a Palestinian draft Security Resolution declaring U.S. President Donald Trump’s Middle East peace plan in breach of international law, according to three diplomats.

Two of those diplomats said they understood Tunisia’s newly elected President Kais Saied had fired Baati—who has served for only five months—following complaints from the United States. It is viewed as part of an effort to head off a major rift in relations with the United States at the start of his administration.

The Tunisian foreign ministry issued a statement saying Baati had not adequately coordinated his U.N. stance with that of the government. “Tunisia’s ambassador to the United Nations has been dismissed for purely professional reasons concerning his weak performance and lack of coordination with the ministry on important matters under discussion at the UN,” according to the statement.

Baati attended a meeting of the Security Council Thursday morning, according to diplomats, but said he was on his way home before the end of the day. “Everybody was in shock,” said one U.N.-based ambassador. “He was among the most respected ambassadors at the United Nations and the government said he was fired because he was unprofessional? It’s a joke.”

“This undercuts the credibility of Tunisia,” the ambassador added.

Another source said Tunisia’s new president is looking to remove top officials from the previous government, including Baati, and a complaint delivered from the White House sealed his fate.

The move came amid a flurry of diplomatic activity at the U.N. on the eve of a high-level visit to the Security Council next week by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who is expected to denounce the Trump plan before the U.N. Security Council, condemn Israeli plans to annex parts of the West Bank, and present an alternative Palestinian peace plan. He will be joined during his visit to New York by former Israeli President Ehud Olmert, who will also express his opposition to the U.S. plan.

On Thursday, Trump’s Middle East advisor and son-in-law Jared Kushner lunched with Security Council members at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations. Armed with charts and maps, he sought to win support from a skeptical audience for the 181-page plan, which would provide the Palestinians with limited sovereignty over their affairs.

The plan has met with a wall of hostility since Trump unveiled it at a White House event on Jan. 28. The so-called peace vision would allow Israel to keep strategic territory in the West Bank, including the Jordan Valley, and Jerusalem, ensuring that some 700,000 Israeli settlers can remain on lands captured by Israel. Israel would also grant Israel control over a unified Jerusalem, leaving the door open for the Palestinians to build the capital of a new Palestinian state in a poor neighborhood in east Jerusalem, cutting it off from the city by a concrete separation barrier. A new Palestinian state would be demilitarized, with Israel maintaining considerable security control over a future Palestine. Israel would also maintain security control over a demilitarized Palestinian state.

Kushner and other senior officials spent years coaxing Arab states into supporting a possible Trump peace plan, and the ambassadors of Bahrain, Oman, and the United Arab Emirates attended the White House event.

But that victory was short-lived. Within days, all foreign ministers of the Arab League, a 22-member union of Arab-speaking countries, unanimously rejected what the Trump team called the U.S.-Israeli “deal of the century” “considering that it does not meet the minimum rights and aspirations of Palestinian people.”

In a scathing rebuke, Arab League chief Ahmed Aboul Gheit likened the plan to “apartheid” and said Trump’s proposal “sows the seeds for another 100 years of conflict and suffering.”

But Kushner, at his lunch with Security Council members on Thursday, reiterated his long-standing position that generations of diplomats have trod a similar path—based on long-standing U.N. agreements—toward peace that has ended in failure, and that it was time to give a new approach a chance, according to U.N.-based diplomats.

Likening Middle East peace negotiations to a business deal, he highlighted the importance of moving beyond principles and drilling down on the details of the plan, these diplomats added.

Saying that the U.S. priority was safeguarding Israel’s security, Kushner said that he recognized that the Palestinians required a viable contiguous state that would permit Palestinians to travel across the country without having to go through Israeli checkpoints. While Kushner was inflexible on the status of Jerusalem, he insisted that his plan would ensure that all holy sites in Jerusalem would be accessible to members of all religious groups, including Muslims.

Kushner assured them that the White House had urged the Israelis not to move forward immediately on plans to annex Israeli settlements before the country’s March 2 election.

In an interview with a small group American, Israeli, and Saudi reporters, Kushner blamed Abbas for an upsurge in violence since the occupied West Bank, saying leaders who are preparing the ground for statehood “don’t call for days of rage and encourage their people to pursue violence if they’re not getting what they want,” according to the Associated Press. Kushner characterized Olmert’s visit to New York as “almost pathetic,” suggesting it was unseemly for the “irrelevant” former Israeli leader “to grab headlines.”

“It comes from a lot of jealousy that they couldn’t get the job done themselves,” he said, as AP reported.

Earlier this week, two Muslim countries on the Security Council, Tunisia and Indonesia, circulated a draft resolution—dated Feb. 4 and described as a “non paper”—that “strongly regrets that the plan presented on 28 January 2020 by the United States and Israel breaches international law and internationally endorsed terms of reference for the achievement of a just, comprehensive, and lasting solution” to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“We will be seeking a position from the Security Council, a position in the form of a draft resolution that will be before the Security Council,” the Palestinian ambassador to the United Nations, Riyad Mansour, told reporters. “We know it will be defeated by a veto. But we want to show that the entire international community is reflecting the same position advocated by all of us … when this very bad plan was announced in Washington, D.C.”

The confidential draft, which was reviewed by Foreign Policy, also condemns recent Israeli statements calling for the annexation of Palestinian lands, calls on Israel to cease the creation of new settlements, and stresses “the illegality of the annexation of any part of the Occupied Palestinian Territories, including East Jerusalem.”

The White House has responded by stepping up diplomatic pressure on Tunisia, the lone Arab country on the Security Council, to break ranks with the Palestinians.

“Jared Kushner is going at this with a sledgehammer,” Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the Palestinian Liberation Organization Executive Committee, told Foreign Policy in a phone interview. “It exposes the length to which the Americans would really go to push their agenda, to pressure the others, to blackmail the Palestinians, yes, but also threatening countries that feel vulnerable and feel they cannot afford to incur the wrath of the United States.”

Council diplomats say it remains unclear whether Indonesia or some other country will take forward the resolution, which is all but certain to face a U.S. veto. But council diplomats from Europe and elsewhere are exploring whether a compromise resolution could be negotiated which would avoid a veto.

The Americans favor a far more stripped-down resolution emerging from the council, calling for direct negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians.

Colum Lynch is a senior staff writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @columlynch

Robbie Gramer is a diplomacy and national security reporter at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @RobbieGramer

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