• Alexander Gillespie is Professor of Law at the University of Waikato
Welcome to the return of an independent foreign policy. This began when Gerry Brownlee was publicly rebuked by China for pointing out the truth that its building and militarisation of islands in the South China Sea, in defiance of international rulings, was adding to the tension in the area.
The rediscovery of our independence took a further step in the United Nations Security Council two weeks ago, when our ambassador, Gerard van Bohemen, publicly criticised Russia for its use of the veto as a cynical attempt to prevent action to address a serious humanitarian crisis. The Russians were furious at New Zealand, suggesting a harm in our bilateral relationship, for speaking the truth about a situation which everyone could see but few were willing to articulate.
Our independence has been bolstered even further at the Security Council with our sponsorship of a resolution which was also sponsored by Malaysia, Venezuela and Senegal.
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Egypt was initially going to be the country that presented the resolution to the Security Council but got scared off by a phone call by President-elect Donald Trump.
The resolution in question condemned the Israeli settlements on territory which they acquired by military force in 1967 and never returned. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees were created in the process and subsequently replaced by settlements which currently hold around 400,000 Israeli citizens. There is no question in international law that these settlements are illegal. The rule, very clear since the Geneva Conventions were created in the wake of the atrocities of World War II in 1949, is that the populations of occupied territories shall not be forced out and the occupying power shall not transfer its own civilians into the territory it possesses.
For decades, America has protected Israel from hearing this truth about the illegality of their settlements by their use of the veto at the Security Council. No longer. President Barack Obama, at the end of his patience after Israel decided to further the process of legalising even more illegal settlements on Palestinian private land, moved the American vote to one of abstention, as opposed to veto.
It took courage for New Zealand to remain a co-sponsor of the resolution.
He did this because Israel's actions not only make a mockery of the international rules that everyone else is meant to abide by, they also create a clear impediment to finding peace between the Palestinians and the Israelis and the hope of a two-state solution. It took courage for New Zealand to remain a co-sponsor of the resolution. Senegal, the only other country next to New Zealand that co-sponsored the resolution that Israel has relations with has lost its aid commitments from Israel. For New Zealand, we suffered a major diplomatic slap in the face by Israel calling back its ambassador from Wellington. It is understood that Israel is also considering other sanctions to punish us for speaking the truth.
The way the Europeans have dealt with this situation, of an increasingly belligerent Israel threatening countries which criticise it on the question of the occupied territories, has been to introduce a consumer information campaign. This requires any exports from Israeli that are made in the occupied territories to be clearly identified as such, and shown as not being made in Israel. The decision of whether to purchase, or decline, the product made in the occupied territories is then up to the consumer. We do not operate such a system in New Zealand. Aside from the fact that trade relations between the two countries are small, it has previously not been considered necessary in a political sense.
With regards to Trump, he is likely to show his disapproval of the United Nations by slaying another sacred cow of the diplomatic world and moving the American embassy to Jerusalem. How Trump will respond to us for not backing down like Egypt is unknown, but he is unlikely to forget or forgive. It is quite possible that this will be the beginning of a bad relationship. This may become increasingly visible as Trump seeks to go eyeball to eyeball with China over considerations of trade, Taiwan and illegal island building in the South China Sea.
If he continues to pick a fight with China, he will expect America's traditional friends in the region, including us and Australia, to stand behind him. The bravery shown by New Zealand at the Security Council suggests that we, as a proud and independent country that speaks the truth, may not stand in line as demanded.