Foreign Minister Gerry Brownlee learning the diplomatic lingo after Israel gaffe

Last updated 11:06 10/05/2017

PM Bill English sets the record straight after Gerry Brownlee's comments on New Zealand's co-sponsored UN resolution on Israel.

Foreign Minister Gerry Brownlee has given an assurance he's learned from an early gaffe, describing New Zealand's move to sponsor a UNSC resolution against Israel as "premature".

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Foreign Minister Gerry Brownlee says he's an "excellent student" when it comes to learning diplomatic speak.

The newly-appointed Minister is being tutored by his officials at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade after comments which appeared to undermine a New Zealand-sponsored UN Security Council resolution condemning the building of Israeli settlements on Palestinian land.

Brownlee admits the comments were his mistake. 

"The Government's position hasn't changed. What we are trying to do is re-establish diplomatic relations with a country that we've had a long relationship with.

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"Under the intense scrutiny of a Radio New Zealand journalist, I used some language that perhaps made that less than clear," he said. 

In that interview, Brownlee described the resolution carried out under his predecessor Murray McCully as "premature", and suggested New Zealand should not have moved forward with it unless Israel agreed. 

"It's something I've got to take little bit of a lesson from my friends at MFAT who are currently giving me various pieces of advice about appropriate diplomatic language."

But Brownlee gave an assurance: "I'm an excellent student, a great learner."

His comments come after Prime Minister Bill English yesterday said he spoken with his Foreign Minister and was confident they were the comments of someone still "trying to find the right language". 

Brownlee - just weeks into the job - had already written to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to extend an olive branch and try to patch the fractured relationship. 

A response to the letter had not yet been received, but Brownlee said he would not have expected to in such a short period of time. 

UN Security Council Resolution 2334, passed late last year, demanded Israel "immediately and completely cease all settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem" and said the settlements had "no legal validity and constitutes a flagrant violation under international law".

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It was historic for the fact Permanent Member United States - which has veto rights - abstained, allowing the resolution to pass. Netanyahu described the passage of the resolution, also co-sponsered by Malaysia, Senegal and Venezuela, as an "act of war". 

He recalled Israel's ambassador from the New Zealand posting, and restricted the ability of New Zealand's representative to enter the country. 

Diplomatic relations have been close to non-existant since. But while the Government stood by the resolution, it was working on nudging back in to Israel's good graces. 

Asked if a New Zealand embassy in Tel Aviv would be preferable to one in Turkey's Ankara, cross-accredited to Israel, Brownlee would not be drawn on whether that was likely to occur in the short-term. 

"Let's just see where all this takes us over the next couple of weeks and months," he said. 

"In the end, the real point here is that we've had a long-standing relationship with Israel and we want to keep that relationship alive. And we think by doing that, we'll be able to encourage peaceful solutions to the difficulties they face."

- Stuff

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