Samantha Power, former Obama ambassador, named to key foreign aid position

Power dismissed claims that the Obama administration had been unfriendly to Israel, saying that the administration had made “unprecedented” efforts to help Israel’s standing in the UN.

By Lauren Marcus, World Israel News

President-elect Joe Biden announced Samantha Power as his pick to head US Agency for International Development (USAID) on Wednesday.

In his announcement, Biden called Power, a former U.S. Ambassador to the UN under the Obama administration, “a world-renowned voice of conscience and moral clarity.”

“As a journalist, activist and diplomat, I’ve seen the world-changing impact of USAID,” Power tweeted Wednesday morning.

Power is expected to direct the agency’s efforts towards global coronavirus relief, especially in developing countries. The agency has a $20 billion annual operating budget.

During her tenure from 2013 to 2017 as U.S. Ambassador to the UN, Power notably supported the Obama administration’s decision to not use its veto power to stop a resolution condemning Israeli settlements.

UN Resolution 2334, which was passed 14-0 in December 2016, demanded that Israel “immediately and completely cease all settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territory,” including eastern Jerusalem.

The resolution also stated that Israeli settlements have “no legal validity” and constitute a “flagrant violation under international law.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described the Obama administration’s break with previous policy to block such resolutions as a “shameful anti-Israel ambush at the UN.”

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Addressing the UN ahead of the vote, Power explained the U.S.’s decision to abstain.

“Israeli settlement activity in territories occupied in 1967 undermines Israel’s security, harms the viability of a negotiated two-state outcome, and erodes prospects for peace and stability in the region,” she said.

“The settlement problem has gotten so much worse that it is now putting at risk the very viability of that two-state solution…One cannot simultaneously champion expanding Israeli settlements and champion a viable two-state solution that would end the conflict. One has to make a choice between settlements and separation.”

After the vote, then-U.S. Ambassador to Israel Daniel Shapiro was summoned by the Israeli government, and Israel recalled its ambassadors to New Zealand and Senegal, which supported the resolution.

In November 2019, the Trump administration announced a reversal of U.S. policy regarding settlements, rejecting the Obama administration’s view and saying that it no longer considered Israeli settlements as illegal under international law.

“We’ve recognized the reality on the ground,” said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

In an interview with PBS in December 2017, Power said the vote had been difficult for her, as she acknowledged anti-Israel bias in the UN.

“One of the reasons the vote was hard – even though the content of the resolution, opposing settlements, opposing violence, terrorism, incitement… basically reflected our policy – was because the institution has been biased against Israel,” she said.

“With 18 resolutions in the general assembly against Israel and 1 against Syria…things are way out of whack at the UN.”

Power appeared to place the blame on the stalled peace process on settlement building, saying, “If a two state solution stands a chance…allowing Israel and the people of Palestine to live in security and dignity side-by-side, the building has to stop.”

She dismissed claims that the Obama administration had been unfriendly to Israel, saying that the administration had made “unprecedented” efforts to help Israel’s standing in the UN.

“For all of the public discussion about this single vote, the record is the one that’s going to stand the test of time,” she said.

In her memoir, Power blasted unnamed countries for easing up on criticism of Iran’s human rights violations after the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.

“Unfortunately, some countries were so pleased by the nuclear agreement that they felt it was unnecessary to run an annual UN General Assembly resolution condemning Iran’s human rights abuses,” she wrote.