WASHINGTON—South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley pledged 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 more 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.
Haley also took a tougher stance against Russia than Trump, who will be sworn in Friday. She told the committee that 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.
She said she doesn’t think that the United States can trust Moscow right now and said she’s against lifting existing sanctions against Russia unless it changes its behavior. But she acknowledged there are areas, such as counterterrorism, where the two countries can cooperate.
“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 its annexation of Crimea and incursion in Ukraine.
During the hearing, 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.
Haley also said the U.N. has a “long history of anti-Israel bias,” and that during the most recent U.N. General Assembly session, the international body adopted 20 resolutions against Israel “and only six targeting the rest of the world’s countries combined.”
Haley acknowledged that 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?”
But she said she would not endorse a “slash and burn” strategy when it comes to determining where to spend money.
Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland, the committee’s top Democrat, said that despite the U.N. shortcomings, “it is almost impossible to imagine a world without the U.N.” He emphasized the need to strengthen America’s alliances, particularly in light of Trump’s view that NATO is “obsolete.”
“We need to be reassuring our allies, not threatening to abandon them,” Cardin told Haley.
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 Netanyahu for dragging Israel away from democracy. Kerry said expanding Israeli settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem are leading to an “irreversible one-state reality.”