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New Zealand and Israel make amends

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Israel and New Zealand have made diplomatic amends, again.

Israel announced on Tuesday that it will restore full diplomatic relations with New Zealand, and that its Ambassador Itzhak Gerberg will return to Wellington in the coming days.

Israel downgraded its diplomatic ties with New Zealand in response to New Zealand's co-sponsoring of UN Security Council resolution 2334 in December last year, which condemned Israeli settlement building, and was seen by Israel as one-sided and unhelpful towards furthering peace prospects.  The resolution included the following statement:

"Reaffirms that the establishment by Israel of settlements in the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, has no legal validity and constitutes a flagrant violation under international law and a major obstacle to the achievement of the two-State solution and a just, lasting and comprehensive peace."

The resolution passed in the Security Council with 14 votes in favour and an abstention from the US, one of the final acts of the Obama Administration.

In contrast, Australia criticised resolution 2334 and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said:

"We support a two-state solution just as the government of Israel does... It is not assisted by one-sided resolutions made at the councils of the United Nations or anywhere else," adding "and that is why Australia has not, and does not, support one-sided resolutions."

Israel's announcement that it is restoring ties with New Zealand came a day after New Zealand's Prime Minister Bill English sent a letter to Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressing regret over the damage to ties that were caused by New Zealand's co-sponsoring of UN resolution 2334.

The Times of Israel reported that English's letter followed a phone call to Netanyahu days earlier, and that it was "the culmination of several months of discreet diplomatic contacts led by [Director General of the Israeli Foreign Ministry Yuval] Rotem and the Foreign Ministry's Deputy Director-General for Asia and the Pacific Mark Sofer."

The letter from English fell short of an apology, as New Zealand's Foreign Minister Gerry Brownlee further clarified to the media:

"We're not apologising for anything. We're simply saying that friends who are estranged can't talk about these matters. So being able to discuss them is important."

Asked whether New Zealand also expressed regret about its co-sponsorship of the resolution, Brownlee said:

"There was a discussion that I wasn't party to, obviously."
"What we said was that we very much regret the fallout that occurred and that diplomatic relations were broken for a time."

New Zealand not only co-sponsored the resolution but was also seen as having pushed for it during its membership on the UN Security Council. For example, on New Zealand's website for Foreign Affairs and Trade, regarding resolution 2334 it states, "New Zealand worked throughout its two-year term on the Security Council to advance a resolution on the Middle East Peace Process." New Zealand was also seen as having little regard for the legal implications of the wording of the resolution, despite UN Security Council resolutions having significant implications in international law.  According to Shalom Kiwi, New Zealand's Permanent Representative to the UN Gerard van Bohemen reportedly said during a talk at the New Zealand Institute of International Affairs:

"That resolution was someone else's resolution that we took over the line. If it was our resolution the language would have been different. We wouldn't have put it quite that way, but we were comfortable with it."

Resolution 2334 was also co-sponsored by Senegal, Malaysia and Venezuela. While Israel has no diplomatic relations with Malaysia and Venezuela, it also downgraded its diplomatic ties with Senegal. However, last week Israel also made amends with Senegal and announced the resumption of diplomatic relations after Netanyahu met with Senegal's President Macky Sall at the ECOWAS summit of West African leaders in Liberia.

Despite being "friends", Israel and New Zealand have had a rocky relationship for some time, with diplomatic spats becoming common. In 2004, New Zealand suspended diplomatic relations with Israel when two Israelis, allegedly Mossad spies, were found guilty of fraudulently trying to obtain New Zealand passports. Israel issued a formal apology in 2005, without confirming or denying that the Israelis were Mossad agents, which led New Zealand to re-accredit the Israeli ambassador. Then in 2014, there was another dispute when New Zealand's Ambassador to Turkey Jonathan Curr arrived to present his credentials to both Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Israel refused to recognise Curr, as it has a long-standing policy of requiring separate representatives to Israel and the Palestinian Authority. The issue was resolved in 2015 when New Zealand appointed Jim McLay, New Zealand's representative to the United Nations in New York, as representative to the Palestinian Authority.

Now that this latest diplomatic rift has been resolved, hopefully Jerusalem and Wellington will return to working with each other, rather than against each other, to encourage engagement, trade and progress toward peace.

Sharyn Mittelman




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