Prime Minister Bill English issued a mild rebuke to new Foreign Minister Gerry Brownlee for indirectly criticising New Zealand's co-sponsorship of a UN Security Council resolution on Israeli settlements.

And he issued a correction on New Zealand's policy.

He said that, like himself, Brownlee was having to get used to a new language in the world of diplomacy and he would no longer be describing the resolution as "premature".

"He is getting familiar with the language the Government has been using around it, and in this world of diplomacy, each word matters," English said at his post cabinet press conference.


"I think he was just trying to find the right language and it hasn't changed the Government position which is to do what he is doing and that is to rebuild the relationship with Israel because we think it is important to have representation in each other's countries and a positive relationship."

Asked if Brownlee would be using the word "premature" again to describe the resolution, English said: "I wouldn't expect so and I think he would say the same thing."

English rejected the suggestion commonly made by critics of former Minister Murray McCully that the resolution was a departure from well-established New Zealand policy.

Asked what New Zealand's position was, English said: "The Government's position is what it's always been and that is we felt the resolution was expressing longstanding Government policy, in fact a longstanding commonly-held international view.

"We understand that Israel was upset about the resolution and our role in it but we are keen, looking ahead, to have a positive relationship with Israel."

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recalled his ambassador after the resolution passed without dissent on December 24 (NZ time).

Brownlee was sworn in as Foreign Minister on Tuesday and immediately wrote to Netanyahu expressing the hope of restoring the relationship - a move that was expected to happen soon after McCully left.

But in an interview on RNZ Brownlee said the resolution had been "premature" and implied it should not have passed without Israel's support.


He said the value of Security Council resolutions was in "the willingness of the parties who are having the resolution imposed upon them to accept what's in it".

New Zealand was one of four Security Council countries which agreed to co-sponsor an Egyptian resolution condemning Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian territory as undermining the two-state solution.

Egypt withdrew its sponsorship after being pressured by then President-elect Donald Trump but the other four did not. The United States did not exercise its veto.