NZ Herald editorial: ‘NZ should not back down’

10 Sep

images-9Foreign Minister Murray McCully

Editorial: NZ must resist Israel’s push to control our foreign policy

NZ Herald, Wednesday 10 September, 2014

For no good reason, the Israeli Government has picked a quarrel with New Zealand over its newly nominated ambassador, Jonathan Curr. It has told him he would be violating diplomatic protocol by being accredited also to the Palestinian Authority. Unless his dual credentials were cancelled, he could not be the ambassador to Israel. Never mind that New Zealand’s ambassador, who lives in Ankara, has performed both roles since 2008. If Israel does not come up with a far better explanation, New Zealand should not back down.

The motive behind Israel’s action is easy enough to see. It seems to have taken umbrage at New Zealand’s more assertive questioning and criticism of its policies in recent times. On September 2, for example, Foreign Minister Murray McCully said he was deeply concerned by the appropriation of 400ha of privately owned Palestinian land near Bethlehem for Israeli settlements. This was, he said, particularly disappointing when the focus should be on supporting the ceasefire in Gaza and peace talks in Cairo, “not deepening Israel’s occupation in the West Bank”.

This statement followed earlier ones in which Mr McCully called for “proportional responses” so the violence in Gaza and Israel did not escalate, condemned the shelling of United Nations buildings in Gaza, and emphasised New Zealand’s wish for a resumption of talks aimed at producing a two-state solution. Prime Minister John Key called the shelling of a United Nations school a “blot on the world as we know it”.

Israel may have been startled by the tone and thrust of these statements. Mr Key’s Government had previously steered well clear of the sort of strong criticism that was a trademark of his predecessor, Helen Clark. Its reaction to, for example, Israel’s 2008 military assault on Gaza was so bland that it was criticised at home for abdicating New Zealand’s moral leadership in international affairs.

But Israel has no real reason to be surprised by the latest statements. It knows New Zealand is bidding for a seat on the UN Security Council in 2015 and 2016. One of the countries with which it is vying is Turkey. It must, therefore, prove its credentials to Islamic countries. They have been monitoring New Zealand’s actions, and some have noted their approval of its vote for a Palestinian statehood resolution at the UN.

The Israelis should, therefore, be looking past the Government’s recent statements and concentrating on the entirety of the relationship. It has certainly improved greatly since the nadir of 2004, when the Clark Government imposed diplomatic sanctions after an attempt by Mossad agents to steal New Zealand passport identities.

By most yardsticks, Mr McCully’s recent statements have been mild and certainly no reason for Israel to, in effect, seek to direct New Zealand’s foreign policy.

There is good reason for the New Zealand ambassador to also have contact with Palestinian officials. It enables the shaping of a more informed and nuanced view of the region. It is also in Israel’s interests that countries such as New Zealand gain a deeper understanding of the region. But Israel seems to have no interest in allowing that to happen except in a way that involves considerable added expense for New Zealand.

Mr McCully says the Government is looking at arrangements that could be made to ensure New Zealand has appropriate representation for Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Hopefully, that will not lead to a more junior official taking responsibility for the authority or another nation representing New Zealand’s interests in Ramallah. That would mean New Zealand had effectively surrendered to Israel’s pressure – and had abdicated moral leadership.

NZ Herald


One Response to “NZ Herald editorial: ‘NZ should not back down’”

  1. Steve September 10, 2014 at 3:33 pm #

    Until now, we have always been able to rely on Muzza to “abdicate moral leadership”. Maybe this time he will surprise us, but I aint holding my breath.

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