Israel’s Foreign Ministry has refused to allow New Zealand’s new ambassador to Israel to present his credentials to President Reuven Rivlin this week, because he was also to be accredited to the Palestinian Authority. Israel’s objections led the ambassador to cancel his planned trip and are threatening to create a diplomatic crisis with the Commonwealth country.
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New Zealand does not maintain an embassy in Israel; its relations with Israel are handled by its embassy in Ankara, which is responsible for several countries in the region. Its ambassador to Turkey serves as nonresident ambassador to Israel and comes to Jerusalem every month or two for meetings.
New Zealand’s new ambassador to Turkey, Jonathan Curr, was meant to come to Israel this week to present his credentials. A packed schedule for his visit was almost set, when last Thursday he told Foreign Ministry personnel that since he is also responsible for New Zealand’s relations with the PA, he also planned to visit Ramallah for an official ceremony with PA president Mahmoud Abbas as well.
This was not to be a full presentation of credentials, since New Zealand does not recognize a state called Palestine. Curr was to present instead a letter of introduction, a document which merely informs Abbas that he is the New Zealand diplomat who handles ties with the PA.
When the Foreign Ministry heard this, officials informed Curr that this violated diplomatic protocol. They noted that since the Oslo Accords, Israel had firm rules that forbade a foreign ambassador to be credentialed to both Israel and the PA, and that unless his “dual credentials” were canceled, he could not serve as ambassador to Israel.
Curr was shocked, because his two predecessors were credentialed to both Israel and the PA and Jerusalem had never protested. Senior ministry officials explained to Curr that, even if this was the case, his two predecessors had presented credentials to Abbas without informing Israel.
Claims by Foreign Ministry officials that such accreditation had taken place without Israel’s knowledge seem rather strange, since the website of New Zealand’s embassy in Turkey states clearly that its ambassador is also accredited to Israel, the PA and Jordan.
To try to resolve the issue, the Foreign Ministry suggested that a lower-level diplomat from the embassy in Turkey present the letter of introduction and be responsible for ties with the PA. This further insulted Curr, who retorted that Israel was not going to tell his country how to handle its diplomacy.
On Sunday, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman decided not to allow any exceptions to the regulations. When the incensed New Zealand ambassador understood that Israel was not going to be flexible, he canceled his trip to Jerusalem and now it isn’t clear when, if ever, Israel will have a New Zealand ambassador.
A Western diplomat involved in the case said the government in Wellington, which is very pro-Israel, is furious and insulted by Israel’s handling of the matter. “Israel has scored a marvelous own goal,” the diplomat said.