AIR New Zealand: NZ’s Vote for Palestinian UN upgrade

AIR New Zealand: NZ's Vote for Palestinian UN upgrade
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Miriam Bell

Questions have been raised by some members of New Zealand’s Jewish community over the country’s recent vote in favour of the United Nations (UN) resolution that Palestine be given “non-member state” status at the international organisation.

There has been some surprise, and even annoyance, that – under Prime Minister John Key’s Israel-friendly government – New Zealand did not abstain on the vote.

On November 30, New Zealand’s Foreign Minister, Murray McCully, confirmed that New Zealand voted in favour of the UN General Assembly resolution on the member status of Palestine.

The Foreign Minister said New Zealand’s vote reflected the long-standing policy of the government: “New Zealand is a long-standing supporter of the two state solution. We believe that Israel and a Palestinian state should exist side by side, each respecting the other’s right to peace. And we believe that they should arrive at that conclusion through direct talks.”

The government regarded the UN resolution as “a poor substitute” for direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, McCully said. “We remain frustrated that two leaders who live half an hour up the road from each other cannot meet to resolve these matters directly.”

However, in the absence of anything else to move the matter forward, New Zealand had decided to vote in favour of the resolution, he continued. “After discussing the resolution text with Palestinian representatives over recent weeks, we believe it is moderate, constructive, and reflects our commitment to a two-state solution. And, for this reason, we voted for it.”

New Zealand’s Permanent Representative to the UN, Jim McLay, had made clear the government’s “absolute commitment to Israel’s right to safety and security” and had “condemned the actions of Hamas extremists in recent weeks”, McCully added.

The New Zealand Government was under no illusions as to the utility of a UN resolution, the Minister said. “It will solve nothing. But, in the absence of the direct talks we have called for, we will deal with the UN resolution on its merits.”

Israel’s Ambassador in Wellington, Shemi Tzur, said the passing of the resolution was a meaningless decision which would not change anything on the ground. “Achieving the goal of a two state solution can only be achieved through direct talks. The way to peace between Jerusalem and Ramallah is in direct negotiations, without preconditions, and not in one-sided UN decisions.”

He expressed his regret at New Zealand’s vote – especially as he understood the Government had a long-term commitment to the principle of direct negotiation as the only way to achieve a durable peace.

Palestinian leaders had to give up their destructive approach and work towards forging constructive solutions, Tzur said; “The foundations for a real Palestinian statehood and real peace for Palestinians and Israelis alike can only be laid through direct talks as we did with Egypt and Jordan. When the foundations for lasting peace are in place, Israel will not be the last nation to welcome Palestinians to the UN. We will be the first.”

Wellington Regional Jewish Council Chairperson David Zwartz said that, prior to the vote, there had been no official communication between the Wellington Jewish community and the government. However, he had himself sent a personal letter to the Foreign Minister, which pointed out various harmful consequences of voting for Palestine’s changed UN status. “On principle, New Zealand should not ally itself to a vote with such negative outcomes, regardless of its likely success. We have a fine tradition of voting on principle rather than simply going along with the majority,” he wrote.

Zwartz said the lack of principle in New Zealand’s vote was described more bluntly by a recent Dominion Post correspondent, who claimed New Zealand’s vote was “opportunistically motivated by its greed for the votes of Middle Eastern and Muslim states, in particular, to help secure a seat on the Security Council.”

University of Waikato political science Professor Dov Bing also wrote to McCully urging him to ensure New Zealand voted against the resolution. He asked the Foreign Minister to consider several points – including that a viable peace between Israel and the Palestinians could only be achieved by direct negotiations between the parties and that the resolution would only be a symbolic and procedural measure.

He said that, while the PA was calling for recognition as a state, it refused to take responsibility for the aggressive acts emanating from sections of the Palestinian population. “Recognising Palestine now, without direct negotiations for a  a peace agreement with Israel, will send the wrong message to other groups: that terrorism will earn you the support of the UN. It will undermine the moral status of the UN.”

The overwhelming majority of Israelis favoured a two-state solution, Bing said. “The Israeli Government has offered to begin negotiations with the PA without pre-conditions, but the PA has rejected such negotiations time and again.”

Meanwhile, the Green Party, the Maori Party, and the Mana Party all supported the Government’s vote on the issue. As – needless to say – did the Palestine Human Rights Campaign, which welcomed New Zealand’s vote but complained it was “not wholehearted”.