Editorial: Diplomatic side-step blow to NZ's clout

Jonathan Curr, New Zealand's ambassador to Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Photo / NZ Herald
Jonathan Curr, New Zealand's ambassador to Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Photo / NZ Herald

The Government is doubtless pleased with what it will see as an elegant solution to a problem triggered last year by the appointment of New Zealand's ambassador to Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Any congratulations are likely to be limited to those it bestows on itself, however. Islamic countries, in particular, have good reason to be disappointed. What they may have discerned as a more condemnatory approach by New Zealand towards Israel has rapidly given way to what they are entitled to see as kowtowing to Tel Aviv.

New Zealand's problem was engineered by the Israeli Government which, out of the blue, said the newly nominated ambassador, Jonathan Curr, could not be accredited also to the Palestinian Authority. It insisted this would breach protocol even though New Zealand's ambassador, who lives in Ankara, had performed both roles since 2008.

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.

Israel should not have been surprised by this level of criticism, however. For the past few years, New Zealand has been pursuing a seat on the United Nations Security Council. One of its rivals was Turkey, so it became essential to court the support of Islamic nations. But with that achieved and a seat secured for this year and next, things have changed. The Foreign Minister, Murray McCully, has announced that Jim McLay will leave his role as New Zealand's representative at the UN and, as well as being a special adviser to himself and a special envoy for the Prime Minister, will become this country's representative to the Palestinian Authority. Israel, as requested by Tel Aviv, will have a separate ambassador.

The Government can point to Mr McLay, a former National Party leader and deputy prime minister, being a very senior person to be accredited to Palestine. But the details of his appointment suggest that amounts to gift-wrapping. Aside from his several other roles, he will, as the Green Party pointed out, be based in New Zealand. Mr McLay will, therefore, not have the support of the embassy in Ankara. Clearly, in no way should the appointment of so senior a figure be interpreted as a signal that New Zealand is moving towards full recognition of Palestinian statehood.

Bowing to pressure in this manner not only undermines this country's claim that it would bring "a fresh, independent perspective" to the Security Council and stand up for small nations but it also denies it the chance to gain a better understanding of the Middle East through a representative who deals with and understands the concerns of both Israel and the Palestinian Authority. That will not worry Israel. It offered no real justification for its demand. It has merely waved a stick and won. The loser is this country's international standing.

- NZ Herald

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