Israeli ambassador talks peace

OPTIMISM: Israel’s ambassador to New Zealand, Shemi Tzur, believes there will be peace between his homeland and the Palestinian Authority within his lifetime.
OPTIMISM: Israel’s ambassador to New Zealand, Shemi Tzur, believes there will be peace between his homeland and the Palestinian Authority within his lifetime.

A United Nations General Assembly vote granting de facto recognition of a sovereign Palestinian state does nothing to change the situation on the ground with Israel, the Israeli ambassador to New Zealand, Shemi Tzur, says.

Mr Tzur was in Hamilton this week to meet Waikato business leaders and discuss trade opportunities.

Yesterday, the 193-member UN assembly upgraded the Palestinian Authority's observer status to a "non-member state", with New Zealand's support.

Mr Tzur's response to that prospect mirrored Israeli comments after the vote.

"We think it's wrong," he said. "America thinks it's wrong. Among the Palestinian people, they know it's wrong because it doesn't change anything on the ground - this won't bring the peace forward." Mr Tzur said Israel was "very much for a Palestinian state".

"Actually, we'd be the first one to vote in favour . . . However, this should be done in the right process. There are huge problems between the two parties which we say simply, come forward, we meet, we discuss them together. We don't have to travel to New York - we live half an hour from each other."

For Mr Tzur, the only viable option for the future is peace. And the answer is simple - direct peace negotiation where both sides put their problems and issues on the table.

"We can find solutions for all those problems.

"We did it with Egypt, with Jordan, and we enjoy a strong, healthy peace with these two countries."

His comments came after the latest bloody eight-day conflict that ended with a brokered Gaza ceasefire on November 21. It was sparked by rockets fired from Gaza into Israel, which retaliated with force.

Once the fighting stopped, six Israelis and 167 Palestinians were dead.

Over the decades, the peace process has been a case of one step forward followed by setback after setback.

Sitting, talking it over, Mr Tzur exudes an optimism about the area's future despite failure after failure.

"What we think is, this Palestinian leadership knows that if they come to direct talks they're there to make a decision; it's not talking for talking's sake. There comes a time for a decision and it's a very painful decision. Borders, Jerusalem, refugees, settlements, water - all these issues are on the agenda. If the process starts we can really proceed. We can do that. We have to do that.

"Because by now both sides know the only solution is by talking to each other."

He is "certain" it will happen within his lifetime, as he plans to live to 120.


Sir Peter Jackson signed a Hebrew copy of The Hobbit that Israel's ambassador to New Zealand, Shemi Tzur, carried on to the red carpet for Wednesday's world premiere in Wellington.

"He said, 'What's that?'," Mr Tzur recalled.

"I said, 'Hebrew - it might look like a real Tolkien language but it's Hebrew'."

The famous tale of Bilbo Baggins entered the Jewish realm when three pilots translated it while being held captive in Egypt following the 1973 Yom Kippur War. "Being bored, they took a mission to translate The Hobbit into Hebrew and it's not easy to translate The Hobbit because of all those figures," Mr Tzur said.

"I've read both versions and it's a good translation."

Mr Tzur said The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey was big news in his homeland and the book had become a bestseller.

He enjoyed the film and said the premiere evening was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Matt Bowen