Israel has lifted the suspension on its diplomatic relations with New Zealand following what might be termed a plasticine apology from New Zealand.

That is an apology that can be shaped into anything you want - the apology that means never having to actually apologise.

From New Zealand's perspective, it is not an apology at all but an expression of regret about the fact that relations between the two countries were damaged through the UN Security Council resolution on illegal Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian territory, co-sponsored by New Zealand.

But the detail has been lost in translation, as expected, and the Israeli media have reported the expression of regret as an apology and that its ambassador is returning to Wellington.


There are no regrets being expressed by New Zealand about the actual resolution although there are no declarations of endorsement either.

In carefully chosen words, Prime Minister Bill English sounds as though New Zealand stands by its actions but he is actually standing by the fact that it happened - which is rather hard to deny.

"We stand by the fact of sponsorship and the content of the resolution," he told reporters travelling with him in the Cook Islands.

The fact is that the resolution - originally sponsored by Egypt - reflected long-standing New Zealand policy and long-standing United Nations' positions that Israel's expansion of settlements in occupied territory undermined a two-state solution and English has acknowledged that.

And it was a resolution that passed virtually unanimously, with the US abstaining because the Israeli Prime Minister had brazenly campaigned in the US Congress against Obama's Iran plan.

Much as some members of the New Zealand cabinet, including Foreign Minister Gerry Brownlee and Attorney-General Chris Finlayson, may wish that New Zealand had never co-sponsored the resolution when it was on the Security Council, it did, albeit under a different Foreign Minister.

To sweeten the "regret" New Zealand is also sending a cyber security delegation to Israel next week led by the National Cyber Policy Office within the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet.

The references to "regret" and "standing by" have been carefully negotiated between diplomats for maximum flexibility of interpretation.


The same type of negotiation went on when Helen Clark played hardball with Israel in 2005 and demanded an apology when two Israeli Mossad agents were jailed for stealing the identity of a New Zealander to obtain a false passport.

But she rejected a draft "statement of regret" although she was dealing with a clear criminal act rather than a restatement of international law in the current instance.

She eventually got an apology for the passports scandal but without any admission from Israel that the Israeli citizens were its agents.

English back then demanded to see the letters with her Israeli counterpart but she refused.

Labour and the Greens are demanding to see the letters between English and his Israeli counterpart.

But he has refused.

Plasticine politics at play.