Prime Minister Bill English is denying that his Government has backtracked on its support for a UN Security Council resolution which condemned Israel.

English this afternoon said his Government stood by both its decision to sponsor the resolution, and what it said.

He made the comments after it was revealed that he wrote a letter to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu several days ago expressing regret about the damage caused by the resolution.

Israel has responded to the letter by restoring diplomatic ties with New Zealand. It recalled its ambassador in Wellington after the resolution passed, and now plans to send him back.


The Prime Minister's office will not release a copy of the letter, saying it would "prejudice the international relations of the Government".

Speaking to reporters in the Cook Islands this afternoon, English said he did not apologise for the resolution in the letter or New Zealand's sponsorship of it.

"The resolution expressed longstanding and international policy and we stand by those positions. What we do express regret about was the fact that it disrupted our relationship with Israel."

He added: "Whether we agree with a country or don't disagree with them, we certainly prefer to have diplomatic connection and it's good that Israel has seen fit to restore their post in New Zealand."

The resolution passed in December, in the final week of New Zealand's tenure on the Security Council.

English did not answer questions about whether New Zealand would have initiated the resolution if he were Prime Minister and Gerry Brownlee Foreign Minister, saying they were hypothetical.

"It arose out of very particular circumstances where we were on the Security Council and others dropped out, apparently. I don't think that situation would arise again."

The diplomatic crisis took place as Israel planned to increase its settlements, including its first development on the West Bank since the 1990s.


In a phone call with Netanyahu which preceded the letter, English said he did not raise concerns with Netanyahu about the settlements. He said he "just expressed my concern about the state of the relationship".

Earlier today, the Jerusalem Post reported that English wrote to Netanyahu several days ago, saying he "regretted the damage done to Israel-New Zealand relations as a result of New Zealand proposing Resolution 2334 at the Security Council".

After receiving the letter, Netanyahu directed officials to tell the New Zealand Government that Israel had decided to "end the crisis", the Post reported.

Israel is now planning to send its ambassador, Itzhak Gerberg, back to Wellington, bringing to an end a six-month diplomatic crisis.

Foreign Minister Gerry Brownlee confirmed this morning that diplomatic ties had been restored.

Speaking to the Herald in the Cook Islands, Brownlee said Netanyahu had instructed his foreign ministry to "end the stand-off with New Zealand".

"Israel is a country that's been a friend of New Zealand for a very long time," he said.

"We're supportive of the fact that they are a democratically-elected government, which in that part of the world is not all that usual."

Asked whether New Zealand was weakening its position on Israeli settlements by sending the letter, Brownlee said it did not amount to an apology.

"We're not apologising for anything. We're simply saying that friends who are estranged can't talk about these matters. So being able to discuss them is important."

Brownlee added that any solution for the Israel-Palestine conflict would come from the two countries working together, "not from any external pressure".

Asked whether New Zealand also expressed regret about its co-sponsorship of the resolution, Brownlee said: "There was a discussion that I wasn't party to, obviously.

"What we said was that we very much regret the fallout that occurred and that diplomatic relations were broken for a time."

Labour leader Andrew Little said the resolution was New Zealand's crowning achievement during its two tenure on the Security Council, and the Government needed to "come clean" about whether it still supported it.

"It's proper to have diplomatic relations with Israel and attempt to restore them, but that doesn't get away from the fact that when that country has committed breaches of international law, we have a right to call them out."

He added: "It was the right thing to do then, which is why Labour unambiguously backed the resolution from the start.

"It remains the right thing to do today. Bill English should tell New Zealand exactly what he said to the Israeli Prime Minister in order for diplomatic relations to be restored."

Green Party foreign affairs spokesman Kennedy Graham said English's apology showed that New Zealand did not have an independent foreign policy.

English was guided by trade and not principle on the international stage, he said.

"It shows a lack of moral strength from Bill English to waver on a legitimate, principled stance as soon as a country like Israel throws its weight around.

"These illegal settlements make it harder and harder for there to be peace between the Israelis and Palestinians. Every new settlement takes away productive land from Palestinians and increases resentment."

The resolution, which was also sponsored by Malaysia, Senegal and Venezuela, said Israeli settlements violated international law and undermined a two-state solution in Israel's conflict with Palestine.

It was passed 14-0 at the last council meeting of the year, and New Zealand's last meeting in its two-year term as an elected member of the Security Council.