Gerry Brownlee 'premature' in making Israel comments: Prime Minister Bill English

MAARTEN HOLL/FAIRFAX NZ

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

Newly appointed Foreign Minister Gerry Brownlee was "still trying to find the right language" when he claimed a New Zealand-sponsored United Nations Security Council Resolution on Israel was "premature". 

But Prime Minister Bill English says he is confident Brownlee is clear on New Zealand's position now, and it had not changed since the Government pushed through a controversial resolution, condemning Israeli settlements on Palestinian land.

At his post-Cabinet press conference, English said Brownlee was "still getting familiar" with the language used by his predecessor Murray McCully, who authorised New Zealand's UN representatives to co-sponsor Resolution 2334, late last year. 

Foreign Minister Gerry Brownlee was still "finding the right language" when it came to Israel, says the Prime Minister. ...
GEORGE HEARD/FAIRFAX NZ

Foreign Minister Gerry Brownlee was still "finding the right language" when it came to Israel, says the Prime Minister. But "yes", he's found it now.

The resolution 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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Last week - less than a week into his new role - Brownlee said the resolution might have been "premature" and implied New Zealand should not have acted without Israel's support. 

AFP

The UN Security Council demands that Israel halt settlements, in a resolution adopted after the US refrained from vetoing the contentious measure.

While the Government stood by its actions as a non-permanent member of the Security Council last year, its focus had turned to repairing the relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who recalled his ambassador from Wellington and decried the move as an "act of war".

The resolution was "expressing longstanding Government policy, in fact, a longstanding commonly-held international view," English said. 

"We understand that Israel was upset about the resolution and our role in it, but we're keen looking ahead, to having a positive relationship with Israel."

Brownlee had already written to Netanyahu in the hopes of repairing diplomatic ties between the two countries. It was unclear what language was used in the letter, and Brownlee's office said it would not be releasing it publicly.

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It had only just been sent and English said he was not aware of a response yet, but he had spoken with Brownlee about the Government's stance on the Israel resolution. 

"Now the Minister of Foreign Affairs made some comments last week - I think he was just trying to find the right language and it hasn't changed the Government position, which is to do what he's doing.

"And that is rebuild the relationship with Israel because we think it's important to have representation in each other's countries and a positive relationship," English said.

"He's getting familiar with the language the Government's been using about it, and in this world of diplomacy, each word matters." 

English said he was confident the Foreign Minister had found the right language now. He said he would not expect Brownlee to describe the resolution as "premature" any longer. 

English would not be drawn on whether Brownlee's comments were reflective of a personal view on how the issue with Israel should have been dealt with. 

"I think it's just reflective of someone brand new on the job trying - as I've had to, being fairly new into the foreign affairs area - you get to learn the Government's positions and the language that goes with that." 

 - Stuff

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