Clark building UN ties in Mideast

By Kate Shuttleworth

Helen Clark. Photo / AP
Helen Clark. Photo / AP

Former prime minister Helen Clark, whose Labour government froze relations with Israel in 2004, now hopes to strengthen United Nations-Israel ties.

Helen Clark, now head of the UN Development Programme, made her first visit to Israel, the Palestinian Authority and the Gaza Strip this week, but has not commented on the visit.

She refused to answer questions from the media as she spoke to a group of 70 young Jewish entrepreneurs in Caesarea, Israel.

She acknowledged Israel's reputation as a start-up nation and its capacity to solve the issue of high unemployment. She told the group entrepreneurship was a large part of solving that problem.

"When you look at the outlook for global employment, we're told that the world needs another 600 million new jobs just to stand still with current unemployment rates, and currently unemployment rates are a horror story in a lot of countries - developed and developing countries," she said.

"The $64 million question is will those jobs come through the conventional way of people employing other people to do things; or are these jobs and livelihoods going to have to come from entrepreneurship and I think I know what the answer is."

Young Jewish entrepreneurs presented development projects including companies such as GigaWatt Global Rwanda, which last week signed a $23 million deal with the Government of Rwanda to run an 8.5 megawatt solar electric generating plant at Agahozo Shalom Youth Village in Rwanda.

It was a fleeting visit to Caesarea for Helen Clark, who was whisked away to have lunch with Israel's development agency Mashav, before returning to Jerusalem for meetings with President Shimon Peres, members of the Israeli Knesset and officials from the foreign ministry to discuss development opportunities.

Earlier in the week she visited Gaza, where she opened a new water infrastructure project and met women from Beit Hanoun in the northeast of the Gaza Strip to talk about the lack of water.

In the West Bank she met Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdullah in Ramallah and made a flying visit to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.

"I've visited our programme of assistance to the Palestinian people, which is one of our biggest programmes - it's very substantial; we do a lot of work on infrastructure - which we don't do in a lot of other countries," she said in Caesarea.

"I've been labouring the point with our programme that you have to be results-driven and you have to be able to demonstrate what the results are - our survival, our credibility as an agency depends on that."

Ties between New Zealand and Israel haven't always been cordial. New Zealand froze relations with Israel in 2004, while Helen Clark was prime minister, after two Israelis were caught, jailed and fined $100,000 for fraudulently obtaining a New Zealand passport. A diplomatic thaw began in mid-2005 when Israel apologised for the event.

Helen Clark is the most powerful woman with the UN. It's suggested she could become the first woman to lead the organisation once Ban Ki-moon stands down.

- NZ Herald

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