We need new directions in foreign affairs and defence after NZ First indifference

5 Nov
Nanaia Mahuta should start her role as foreign affairs minister by recognising the state of Palestine, says John Minto.
Nanaia Mahuta should start her role as foreign affairs minister by recognising the state of Palestine, says John Minto. [CHRISTEL YARDLEY/Stuff]

OPINION: By John Minto, Christchurch Press and Dominion Post, 5 November 2020

Appointing Nanaia Mahuta as foreign minister and Peeni Henare in defence is a welcome relief and brings fresh pairs of eyes to long-neglected issues.

In the previous term of government, several important foreign policy issues took a back seat after Labour contracted out those roles to NZ First. Winston Peters as foreign minister and Ron Mark as defence minister were left to run their portfolios unchallenged – and Palestine, West Papua and Western Sahara were the biggest losers.

Winston Peters marked time on the Middle East. He stayed silent when Israeli soldiers shot dead hundreds of unarmed Palestinian protesters – many of them children – in the Great March of Return protests in Gaza. He refused to speak out against Israel’s racist nation-state law​, and managed only some tepid opposition to US/Israeli plans to annex vast areas of the Occupied Palestinian Territories earlier this year.

The previous National-led government showed stronger support for Palestine when it co-sponsored UN Security Council resolution 2334 which targeted illegal Israeli settlements on Palestinian land.

In the first 100 days of the new Government, New Zealand should finally join the right side of history and the majority of humanity by recognising the state of Palestine.

Secondly, New Zealand should make its relations with Israel conditional on Israeli compliance with international law. This means insisting Israel end its brutal military occupation of Palestinian territories, revoke racist laws that discriminate against Palestinian Israelis, and allow the right of return for Palestinian refugees.

It’s gone on too long. There is no more time for pious words.

Until Israel complies with international law, New Zealand must suspend our bilateral agreements with Israel, and prohibit the importation of Israeli products. We should also instruct the NZ Superannuation Fund and ACC to disinvest from companies involved with Israel’s illegal settlements.

West Papuans have also been betrayed by New Zealand under Peters. These are our close Pacific neighbours, living under particularly cruel Indonesian military rule. We have stood by, turning a blind eye, just as we previously betrayed the people of East Timor. Mahuta is well-placed to work with other Pacific countries in bringing pressure to liberate West Papua.

Meanwhile, the people of Western Sahara continue to be exploited by New Zealand. The Saharawi people of the area live under Moroccan occupation, while their phosphate deposits are mined for sale overseas. And which is the last country in the world to import phosphate fertiliser stolen from the people of Western Sahara? New Zealand! A shameful embarrassment, which should be ended in the first 100 days.

In defence, it has been a similar story under NZ First. Mark visited Israel in January last year, and the outcome was deeply embarrassing.

Not only did he meet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and give an awful display of obsequiousness on New Zealand’s behalf, but he visited Israel’s biggest weapons manufacturer, Elbit Systems, to check out the latest military equipment, which has been “battle-tested” on Palestinians.

Mark was apparently unaware that in 2012 the Super Fund withdrew its investments from Elbit Systems because the company was helping build the Israeli “security” wall (also dubbed the “apartheid” wall), which the International Court of Justice​ declared illegal​.

However, despite the stance taken by the Super Fund and ACC, the Ministry of Defence has continued to buy military equipment from Elbit Systems.

Mark and the Defence Force were oblivious to any moral issues. Mark simply said the purchase of “niche” military equipment overrode other concerns.

New Zealand defence and foreign policy must have an ethical and moral basis that aligns with international law and United Nations resolutions.

We will be looking to our new ministers to do us proud where their predecessors failed.

* John Minto is national chair of Palestine Solidarity Network Aotearoa.

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