Murray McCully: Why NZ sponsored the resolution against Israel's settlements

An Israeli Arab woman sits by the rubble of demolished house in Kalansua, Israel. Photo / AP
An Israeli Arab woman sits by the rubble of demolished house in Kalansua, Israel. Photo / AP

The spirit of unanimity in which the United Nations Security Council passed resolution 2334 on December 23 stands in sharp contrast to the condemnation and accusations that have dominated subsequent commentary from Israel and that country's supporters.

New Zealanders deserve to know why the issue of settlements has become so challenging, and why it came before the council in December 2016.

At the heart of this whole debate is whether we will see a future in which two states, Israel and Palestine, live side by side in peace and security. This two state solution has been the accepted basis for resolving the Palestinian question for many decades now, enshrined in various negotiated accords and UN Security Council resolutions, and the focus for several unsuccessful attempts to broker final agreement between the parties,

The most recent attempt was led by US Secretary of State John Kerry. After showing great promise those talks broke down in 2014.

No one should underestimate the challenges associated with negotiating the terms for a two state solution. Significant compromises are required of both sides, and the domestic political challenges for both are formidable.

But there has been agreement in principle on the key components, security guarantees for Israel and a state for Palestinians based on the 1967 borders but with negotiated land swaps, including a negotiated approach to managing Jerusalem's holy sites. Resolution 2334 reinforces the international community's commitment to this negotiated outcome.

Resolution 2334 condemns the obstacles to a negotiated two state solution: incitement and acts of violence and terror against civilians of all sides, and the ongoing settlements programme which carves ever more deeply into the land available for a Palestinian state on the West Bank.

There have been some misleading and irresponsible claims made by critics of the resolution: that it somehow predetermines negotiations between the parties, affects the rights of Israelis to access certain religious sites, or changes the legal status of the West Bank. None of those claims is correct. New Zealand would not have supported it if those assertions were correct, and the US would most certainly not have allowed the resolution to pass.

The focal point for much of the critics' anger is the direct call for a halt to the settlements. But that call by the council was clear and deliberate because continuing settlement growth at anything like the current rate will render the two state solution a purely academic concept. There will be nothing left to negotiate.

The other reality is that without a two state solution, demographic and security considerations will pose a serious challenge to the future character of Israel. Kerry put it starkly in his statement the week after the adoption of Resolution 2334, "If the choice is one state, Israel can either be Jewish or democratic - it cannot be both - and it won't ever really be at peace."

Those who doubt the seriousness of the settlements issue should read the report of the Middle East Quartet of July 1, 2016. The Quartet comprises the European Union, Russia, the United Nations and the United States. Its report outlines in a careful and factual way the impact of ongoing settlement activity, and more recent moves by the Israeli Parliament to retrospectively legalise settlements developed in contravention of Israeli law.

In Israel this is a politically difficult topic. The settler movement is very influential in the current government, and its leaders occupy a number of key Cabinet posts.

For the whole of New Zealand's two year term on the Security Council, the Secretary-General and his Special Co-ordinator have expressed alarm that the forces of incitement and violence and the relentless progress of the settlement programme were undermining the two state solution.

Some quite exotic theories have been advanced as to why this resolution was dealt with in the final month of New Zealand's council membership. The truth is: the United States would not accept any resolution on this topic until after US presidential elections in November. The domestic politics would have been too difficult.

In late 2014 three quarters of the countries in the United Nations voted for New Zealand's election to the Security Council. They did so because New Zealand has a long standing and respected record for fairness. They also knew of New Zealand's long standing bi-partisan support for the two state solution as a basis for resolving the Palestinian question.

Against that background it would be very difficult to explain why we would not support a resolution seeking to reinforce the notion of two states living peacefully, side by side, and which called for an end to the incitement, violence and the settlements that pose such a serious threat to it.

Murray McCully is New Zealand's Minister of Foreign Affairs.

- NZ Herald

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