How New Zealand pushed a trophy resolution & scored an own goal

Since the passing of anti-Israel UN Resolution 2334 on Christmas Eve last year, co-sponsored by New Zealand, there have been questions about what kind of mandate the Foreign Minister had and the level of prior advice and knowledge of the Government.

Questions about New Zealand’s involvement in the passing of the Resolution were raised this week by Winston Peters in parliament. Peters asked Gerry Brownlee, standing in for the Foreign Minister, whether the resolution had been put before cabinet. Brownlee obfuscated for five minutes or more and failed to answer the question, but he gave the impression that it did not go to cabinet, as procedure demands.

While it’s still something of a mystery how much the New Zealand government knew about the genesis and passing of Resolution 2334, a talk on 9 March 2017 by Gerard van Bohemen to the New Zealand Institute of International Affairs shed light on some diplomatic maneuverings on this issue and showed how New Zealand was a driving force behind the anti-Israel resolution.

From the start of New Zealand’s term on the Council, Foreign Minister McCully made it clear that he wanted to have a resolution on the Palestinian/Israeli conflict, as van Bohemen explained:

This was Mr McCully’s test to me.  He said, if the Security Council is going to mean anything, surely it can table some action on one of the world’s most intractable long-standing conflicts, surely it can say something, even a little something on the Middle East.”

Gerard van Bohemen

To that end, New Zealand drafted a resolution in late 2015, which van Bohemen described as ‘very balanced’, despite it being more empty-handed than even-handed.  The consensus at that time, however, was that any resolution should wait until President Obama’s “lame duck” period.  This was a sentiment echoed in Murray McCully’s NZ Herald opinion piece. Van Bohemen specifically mentioned the “Jewish lobby”, saying

The theory being that traditionally the Jewish lobby is Democratic and a great concern on the part of the administration was that a contentious resolution could be used to divide that lobby.  Accepted wisdom became, you can’t run a resolution on Palestine before elections 2016.”

Gerard van Bohemen

However, as 2016 and New Zealand’s term on the Council and Obama’s term in office drew to a close, a resolution on the ‘Middle East Conflict’ had still not been tabled.  Arab nations at the UN made it clear that they had far more pressing concerns:

Some friendly Arab ambassadors took me aside and said, “It’s fantastic that a country like NZ makes an effort”, but you’ve got to understand that in the ME at the moment, for some Arab countries, it’s Syria that takes all the oxygen and that’s more important for them, and for others it’s Libya and North Africa problems, and for others Iraq that concerns them.  While they would all rally around, it’s not the thing that’s actually concerning them.”

Gerard van Bohemen

Ignoring requests to shift focus away from the Israeli/Palestinian conflict and toward genocides and raging civil wars, New Zealand convened Council members to discuss how they might do ‘even a little something’, proposing the New Zealand-drafted resolution once more.  However, Palestinians were not happy ‘that a non-Arab country was running a resolution on an Arab issue’ and preferred that it be tabled by Egypt.

The Egyptians eventually did put forward a resolution, based on Palestinian text, and tabled it on the evening of 21 December for a vote the next day.  Van Bohemen contacted Minister McCully for instructions and expressed disappointment that, although a resolution would be tabled, New Zealand could not take the credit for it, saying:

I went to bed feeling deflated. It was nice to have a resolution…It would have been nicer if it had been our one.”

Gerard van Bohemen

McCully’s response in the morning – with or without cabinet approval – was, “yes, we’ll support it.  It’s straightforward, consistent with our policy and you can co-sponsor it.” However, far from being ‘straightforward’, the resolution was a significant departure from previous resolutions and New Zealand policy, as Shalom.Kiwi has described here, here, here, here, and here.

Nevertheless, New Zealand co-sponsored the resolution, along with Venezuela, Senegal and Malaysia. Ambassador van Bohemen explained, ‘we didn’t have to sponsor it…we volunteered’.   And when Egypt pulled out from putting the resolution to the vote only a few hours later, New Zealand and the other three co-sponsors stepped in to make sure it would be voted on – choosing to follow seldom-used procedures of the UNSC.

The vote passed on 26 December 2016 with the US abstaining and all 14 other members voting for it. US Ambassador Samantha Power explained the abstention was due to anti-Israel bias and because the US did not agree with every word in the resolution. The bias and the wording of resolution did not seem as important to New Zealand representatives, as van Bohemen admitted,

That resolution was someone else’s resolution that we took over the line. If it was our resolution the language would have been different. We wouldn’t have put it quite that way, but we were comfortable with it.

Gerard van Bohemen

Van Bohemen described the atmosphere on the day of the vote as ‘highly charged’, both because of the issue, and because it was taken at very busy moment, on the last Friday before Christmas.  The ambassador clearly understood that the resolution was an insult to Israel, saying

We had to find time, and had to vote before 3pm.  It was Sabbath at 3 o’clock. We did not want to create that additional insult to the fact.”

Gerard van Bohemen

In fact, van Bohemen said there was ‘palpable elation’ and he was ‘proud of what New Zealand did’.  Regarding the discomfort that the resolution wrought on Israel and her supporters, van Bohemen considered that ‘outside [his] job’. He said

That’s between the NZ government and the Israeli government. There’s a strong desire of NZ to get the relationship right.  Nothing in that resolution was a surprise.  We understood that they would be disappointed, but we do hope that we can move past this point.”

Gerard van Bohemen

He elaborated on this in an interview with Radio NZ, saying:

On the question of restoring relationship with Israel, the ball is very much in their court because they are the ones who took the decision to withdraw their ambassador. But we can’t see it’s in either country’s interests to have a bad relationship.”

Gerard van Bohemen

Many New Zealanders also hope that we can move past this point and restore a positive relationship.  However, many would disagree with the view that the ball is in Israel’s court. The Israeli withdrawal of their ambassador was in response to New Zealand’s choice to sponsor an anti-Israel resolution that excoriates and delegitimises an ally and the only democracy in the Middle East. If it’s not in New Zealand’s interests to have a bad relationship with Israel, as van Bohemen says, this should have been considered before sponsoring the resolution.  This action has likely harmed chances of Israeli political support for any NZ/Israel agreements, such as the innovation deal worth an estimated $2b between Australia and Israel.

Resolution 2334 would, however, have garnered favour with the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation and Non-aligned countries.  It is no secret that New Zealand has been busily pursuing trade opportunities with Saudi Arabia, Iran, and other OIC members.  Or it might just have been a naive attempt to secure a personal legacy on the part of McCully.

Either way, the single focus on a trophy resolution that lacks historical accuracy, balance and fairness, hardly befits a body with the responsibility of the Security Council.  Rather than promoting dialogue between the parties, McCully’s legacy has simply made the chances of peace more remote.  In effect, his easy goal may prove to be an own goal.

Shalom.Kiwi’s contributors are a mix of Māori, Pakeha, Jewish and non-Jewish New Zealanders, who have all spent considerable time in Israel.

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  1. New Zealand should get another trophy for having been instrumental in burying the two-state solution – the creation of a second Arab state in addition to Jordan in the territory of the Mandate for Palestine – by co-sponsoring Resolution 2334.

    Such a resolution prepared in secrecy and haste in the dying days of the Obama administration and claiming that the Jewish Quarter, the Jewish cemetery on the Mount of Olives and the Kotel in Jerusalem, the Machpelah in Hebron and Rachel’s Tomb near Bethlehem are located in “occupied Palestinian territory” was grossly offensive and a concocted falsehood.

    New Zealand may well get another trophy if its act of betrayal of Israel ultimately leads to the two state solution postulated by article 25 of the 1922 Mandate for Palestine – one Jewish State – Israel – and one Arab State – Jordan – in the territory of the Mandate.

    • Leon Poddebsky

      David, I think that there are ample grounds for regarding the Gaza Strip as a de facto state.It comprises a clearly defined geographical extent; it is under the control of a government that is able to enforce its will on most of its populace.
      (And, of course, that strip was part of the Mandate, too.)

      To sum up: the current situation is that the Arab Palestinians have two states, Jordan and Gaza, as well as an autonomous entity, whose internal self-rule is executed by a quasi-state apparatus.

      • Fair summation except the international community does not agree with you.

        However Israeli Education Minister Naftali Bennet does in relation to Gaza:
        “Bennett pointed out that Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005 and gave the area to Palestinian Authority (PA) chairman Mahmoud Abbas. The result was a “terror state” in Gaza, as Hamas took over the region and has fired thousands of rockets at Israeli territory.

        There is already a Palestinian state formed in 2005 in Gaza and they turned it into a terror state. Anyone in their right mind cannot imagine forming another one right here in Jerusalem, our eternal capital. That would be insane,”

        Guesss one can conclude the international community is indeed insane.

        • Leon Poddebsky

          For Israel to rely on the advice of its good friends in the international community would be the essence of insanity.
          It is quite clear that the Europeans ( and also the global “left” in general) are fixed on a course of attempting to coerce Israel onto a path that would lead either to Israel’s suicide or else to a war that would be far more ferocious than any previous one in Israel’s history.

  2. No two state solution. Ever. This little gaggle of self important and incredibly ignorant kiwis has seen to that.

    Hobbits making a fuss in the dark.

    Perhaps New Zealand should be given responsibility for administering and, keeping the peace in Gaza and in the PLO, Hamas and Al Queda zones west of the Jordan. Also for hammering out a peace deal between the fifteen parties involved most of whom would gladly slit their throats in the night for being infidels too close.

    That should keep them busy for the next century or two. Also take care of about 30% of the New Zealand GDP.

  3. “Rather than promoting dialogue between the parties, McCully’s legacy has simply made the chances of peace more remote. In effect, his easy goal may prove to be an own goal.”

    The author doesn’t seem to have considered the possibility that preventing peace between Israel and its neighbors is not an “own goal” but the deliberate intent of Her Majesty’s Government.

  4. Leon Poddebsky

    It’s clear that the values to which Mr McCully and his boss, PM English, subscribe, are not the values of Israel, but the values of the rest of the Middle East.
    Let them wallow in them.

  5. Leon Poddebsky

    Talking of occupied territories, illegal settlements and imperialism, let us not forget that the sole remaining colonialist empire is the empire that was conquered by Arabian imperialists about 1500 years ago.
    Those imperialists have been subjugating Kurds, Yazidis, Arameans, Assyrians, Copts, Jews, Azerbaijanis, as well as Berbers and other Africans for a millennium and a half.

    Maybe the new head of Australia’s trade union movement, together with the notables, Carr, Hawke, Rudd and Evans, will have a little chat to them.

  6. Leon Poddebsky

    To assert that “the ball is in Israel’s court” is a way of saying that Israel is of no importance for New Zealand. That being so, Israel would do well to consider the current NZ government a hostile entity.

    • I’d say you’ve hit the nail on the head there.
      I am still wondering If John Key ‘fled’ because there was no stopping McCully.

      • Leon Poddebsky

        Wasn’t Key ( ? Halachically a Jew?) the personage who asserted that New Zealand was going to be “more even-handed?”
        You know, even-handed like being even-handed with the mafia on the one hand and the police on the other.
        That was His Honourable Eminence, Gough Whitlam’s, slogan, too: “neutral and even-handed.”

        • Yes Key was halachically Jewish. His mother was a Holocaust survivor. He had no particular feelings for Judaism or Israel. He converted to his wife’s branch of Christianity.