Security Council

NZ folds to Israel

Back in September of last year, a diplomatic stoush broke out between New Zealand and Israel. Our nominated ambassador to Israel, Jonathan Curr, was rejected by Israel, as he was also our representative in Palestine.

Despite New Zelaand’s ambassador having performed both roles since 2008 (as well as being our representative in Turkey), Israel declared:

“It is a protocol principle which has been in practice for many years and is applicable to all the ambassadors who are accredited to Israel.”

Given that it quite patently wasn’t a protocol principle that had been applied to New Zealand, I wrote at the time:

Frankly, there’s an obvious solution here. Leave Mr Curr in place as our ambassador to Palestine and Turkey, and appoint no replacement to Israel. If the Israeli relationship with NZ is as good as Israel says it is, our Government will undoubtedly receive a call from Israel saying that Mr Curr has been approved. Protocols can be relaxed… After all, Israel may well feel a little awkward that NZ has better diplomatic relations with Palestine than with Israel…

And if Israel doesn’t make the call, well, we can always transmit any diplomatic messages to Israel via their ambassador to NZ.

Unfortunately, New Zealand has now folded to Israel. Jonathan Curr remains ambassador to Israel, while former National Party leader and deputy Prime Minister Jim McClay will be our representative in Palestine.

Except that he won’t actually be based in Palestine, or indeed anywhere near Palestine. He’ll be based in Wellington.

The NZ Herald states in an editorial today:

Israel’s motive was clear enough. It had been irked by this country’s increasingly critical statements about its activities, such as appropriation of privately owned Palestinian land for Israeli settlements and the shelling of Gaza. The level of condemnation harked back to that of Helen Clark’s Government during a period when relations sank to an especially low point.

The editorial goes on to note that Israel should hardly have been surprised by New Zealand’s level of criticism. We were pursuing a seat on the UN Security Council, and with one of our rivals for the seat being Turkey, we needed to court the Islamic nations.

To obtain the Security Council seat, we successfully marketed ourselves as being able to provide “a fresh, independent perspective”. To my mind, we’ve somewhat undermined ourselves in that regard by simply giving in to Israel’s unprincipled demands.

As quote the conclusion of the Herald’s editorial:

[Israel] offered no real justification for its demand. It has merely waved a stick and won. The loser is this country’s international standing.

Why the Israeli ambassador should go

Following the latest bombing by Israel of another UN school in Gaza, the Green Party has called on the Government to expel the Israeli ambassador to New Zealand. On 3News last night, John Key stated that although he was “appalled” at what’s happening in Gaza, he didn’t want to expel the ambassador, as such a move would prevent New Zealand from applying official pressure on Israel at a later date. It was noted that no other country has expelled an Israeli ambassador over this latest Israel-Gaza conflict.

But here’s the thing – world leaders have condemned Israel’s actions; every nation with an Israeli embassy has undoubtedly pulled the ambassador in for a talking to; and Israel has simply stuck to its guns (and missiles) and continued on in precisely the same manner. Israel knows that once it eventually pulls back its ground troops and stops its missile attacks, having accomplished what it set out to do, its international relationships go back to normal.

New Zealand summoning the Israeli ambassador for a meeting? That’s not big news. However, if New Zealand expels the Israeli ambassador, that is indeed big news. It forces every other Western nation to justify why they won’t do the same. And if a few other countries follow suit, Israel is suddenly on the road to becoming a pariah state.

There need to be international repercussions for Israel. Otherwise, Gaza’s Groundhog Day will simply begin again, and again, and again.

Also, from a more cynical perspective, New Zealand is still hoping for a seat on the UN Security Council. Given we’re already the underdogs, it surely can’t hurt for us to show the world some moral fibre…