New Zealand's Prime Minister Bill English [pictured above] continued to insist that his Government stood by the content of United Nations Resolution 2334 in a pre-election engagement with the Jewish community on Sunday.
Along with Senegal, Malaysia, Venezuela, New Zealand co-sponsored the controversial “anti-settlement” resolution, which is biased against Israel, at the end of its stint on the Security Council last year.
Both the resolution and New Zealand’s action in co-sponsoring it caused much consternation in New Zealand’s Jewish community.
It also led to a diplomatic fallout between New Zealand and Israel which recalled its Ambassador to Israel.
Diplomatic ties between the two countries have since been resolved and Israel’s Ambassador is now returning to Wellington.
However, the issue continues to be one of much concern for the Jewish community and it was of little surprise that it was the focus of the Prime Minister’s visit to the Auckland Hebrew Congregation.
English raised the issue in his address to the large crowd of Jewish community members who had gathered to hear what the Prime Minister had to say as the country heads into an election campaign.
He said that the UN resolution was a point of dispute between Israel and New Zealand and that he was aware New Zealand’s co-sponsorship of it had upset New Zealand’s Jewish community.
“I’ve had conversations with Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about it and I have acknowledged concern about the resolution and New Zealand’s participation in it.”
“We have come to a position with the Israel government a few weeks ago. We are welcoming the ambassador back to New Zealand.
“And that should enable us to move the conversation on in a manner that reflects the current government’s support of Israel.”
But, while English acknowledged that some United Nations bodies have been used as an ideological tool against Israel, he said he didn’t resile from the content of the resolution.
When asked by facilitator Rodney Hansen QC about the perceptions engendered in the Jewish community by the resolution, English said he would hesitate to get into debate over terminology and whether they have particular historical associations.
“There is a reality that Israel and the Palestinians work with. We understand that it is complex. New Zealand participation in the resolution did not set out to alter that.
“But I don’t understand why the New Zealand government should offer unquestioning support on Israel’s settlements. We are good friends and good friends are able to question things.
“If the resolution indicates anything it is that there is not blanket support from New Zealand for every aspect of Israel’s policies.”
New Zealand’s fundamental position on the conflict hasn’t altered for some time and it reflects international views about a two state solution, English said.
“But the challenge ahead seems greater than it ever was. The two state solution seems to be getting harder to achieve not easier.”
Despite his stance on the resolution, the Prime Minister was keen to emphasise that his Government sees New Zealand’s relationship with Israel as important – especially given their commonalities as small, developed, democratic countries.
He said that New Zealand is getting involved in a small countries collective which includes Israel, Singapore, Denmark, Finland and several others.
“Multi-lateral organisations, like the United Nations, are not working that well for us. A small forum where common interests are very strong between those countries is much more effective.
“We see that as a good, positive platform to reset the relationship with Israel and to move ahead.”
English added that the Government looks forward to a positive relationship not just with Israel, but with the Jewish community in New Zealand too.
It is worth noting that, according to some sources, English is in a minority in his Cabinet when it comes to UN Resolution 2334 and that many other National Party politicians disagree with the stance.
There is also a widely held view that the UN Resolution was driven by former Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully and that the new Foreign Affairs Minister, Gerry Brownlee, will take a very different approach.
* During the AHC event, English also discussed the increase in anti-Semitic behaviour in New Zealand including in schools; kosher meat issues; and New Zealand’s refugee quota.
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