WASHINGTON — South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley declared her support for moving the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a shift firmly endorsed by Donald Trump but one that could trigger increased violence in the Middle East.
Haley, Trump's pick to be the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday that she "absolutely" backs the embassy move because that's what Israel and congressional Republicans want. But a spokesman for Jordan's government recently told The Associated Press that the embassy move would be a "red line" for Amman and "inflame the Islamic and Arab streets."
Jordan serves as custodian of a major Islamic shrine in east Jerusalem and the Palestinians seek a capital there.
Congress ordered the embassy relocation more than 20 years ago, but presidents ever since, Republican and Democrat, have refused to comply. Several Republican senators have proposed legislation that would withhold 50 percent of the State Department's 2017 budget until the embassy move from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem is completed.
During a confirmation hearing that lasted nearly three-and-a-half hours, Haley took a tougher stance against Russia than Trump, who will be sworn in Friday, and agreed with a Republican senator who said Syria is committing genocide against its people.
Haley said she believes Russia committed war crimes by bombing Syrian civilians in the city of Aleppo. Rex Tillerson, Trump's choice for secretary of state, declined to make that accusation during his confirmation hearing last week.
While Trump has said he believes Russia can be a partner, Haley said she doesn't think Moscow can be trusted right now. She said she's opposed to lifting existing sanctions against Russia unless it changes its behavior in Syria, Ukraine and elsewhere. Cooperation with Russia in such areas as counterterrorism, Haley said, depends on Moscow altering course.
"The problem is there are no boundaries with Russia," said Haley, who added that the U.S. needs to let Moscow know "we are not OK" with Russia's annexation of Crimea in 2014 and its incursions into eastern Ukraine.
Haley assailed the Obama administration for failing to block a U.N. Security Council resolution that condemned Israel's settlements in east Jerusalem and the West Bank. She pledged to reject future measures that she said unfairly targeted the Jewish state, if the Senate confirms her nomination.
Haley said she won't go to U.N. headquarters in New York and "abstain when the U.N. seeks to create an international environment that encourages boycotts of Israel." She told the committee the U.N. resolution was "a terrible mistake" that makes a peace agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians harder to achieve.
Israel's ambassador to the U.N., Danny Danon, thanked Haley in a statement issued during the hearing for her "unequivocal support and her clear statement regarding the U.N.'s discrimination against Israel."
Haley acknowledged she is new to international diplomacy. But she said while the U.N. has had many successes, citing health and food programs that have saved millions of lives, "any honest assessment also finds an institution that is often at odds with American national interests and American taxpayers."
The United States contributes 22 percent of the organization's budget, and Haley questioned whether such a sizable investment is worthwhile.
"We are a generous nation," Haley said. "But we must ask ourselves what good is being accomplished by this disproportionate contribution. Are we getting what we pay for?"
Haley said she would focus on "fixing" the U.N. and agreed that money should not continue to be funneled into programs that don't work. But she said she's not in favor of a "slash and burn" strategy in which American dollars are used as leverage. She said she doesn't agree with conservative lawmakers who want to withhold any U.S. financial contributions to the U.N. until the Security Council resolution is repealed.
Last December, Israel and its supporters lashed out at Obama for his decision to abstain and allow the U.N. Security Council to approve the resolution, which called the Israeli settlements "a flagrant violation under international law."
But Secretary of State John Kerry defended the decision in a speech last month, saying the U.S. was standing up for a two-state solution when it abstained on the resolution. He criticized Israel for settlement building and blamed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for dragging Israel away from democracy.