Israel to restore diplomatic ties with New Zealand, Brownlee refuses to endorse earlier policy

"What the letter indicated was that New Zealand wanted to resume diplomatic relations with Israel and regretted that ...
GEORGE HEARD/FAIRFAX NZ

"What the letter indicated was that New Zealand wanted to resume diplomatic relations with Israel and regretted that there'd been fallout from the co-sponsorship of the resolution," Gerry Brownlee said.

After six months in the cold, Israel has agreed to restore diplomatic ties with New Zealand.

The country broke off relations with New Zealand after it co-sponsored a UN security council measure condemning continued Israeli settlements in Palestinian territory just before Christmas last year.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly warned New Zealand this act would be a "declaration of war" prior to the vote. After the resolution passed he withdrew his ambassador from New Zealand and barred the Kiwi ambassador from Israel.

The warming of relations comes after Prime Minister Bill English spoke to Netanyahu on the phone and then wrote him a letter saying "I regret the damage done to Israel-New Zealand relations as a result of New Zealand proposing Resolution 2334 at the Security Council."

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"We welcome the return of Israel's ambassador to Wellington."

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".

This phone call and letter followed "discrete high-level bilateral discussions held over a period of several months" by diplomats, the Israeli government said in a press release.

Foreign affairs minister Gerry Brownlee described the letter as a "clarification" rather than an apology for the resolution on RNZ's Morning Report on Wednesday,

"What the letter indicated was that New Zealand wanted to resume diplomatic relations with Israel and regretted that there'd been fallout from the co-sponsorship of the resolution," Brownlee said.

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He refused to endorse or comment at all on the original resolution, which was passed by his predecessor.

"The resolution is one that uh, has been passed by the UN, it exists. What's important is that the relationship between New Zealand and Israel is on a good footing."

Asked again, Brownlee said "as I said and all I am going to say is that we regret the fallout."

Asked if this was a repudiation of earlier policy or whether New Zealand had been "disrespectful" in passing the resolution in the first place, Brownlee repeated the talking point about a restoration of friendship once again, noting that this was all he was going to say "no matter how many times you ask me or different ways you ask me."

He said the letter was a not a "pandering" to Israel, and told Morning Report host Susie Ferguson again that he was not going to deviate from his original line on the issue.

The sponsored resolution, which was reportedly dropped by Egypt after pressure from then US President-elect Donald Trump, passed in the first few weeks of Bill English's tenure as Prime Minister. 

It conformed with long-held New Zealand policy towards Israeli settlements, but is understood to have been supported by former Foreign Minister Murray McCully much more than his replacement Brownlee.

Brownlee described the resolution as possibly "premature" in his first week on the job.

 - Stuff

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