Israel Moves to End Crisis With New Zealand Over Sharing Envoy With PA

The issue is vital now that New Zealand is a member of the UN Security Council.

Barak Ravid
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Jonathan Curr, New Zealand's new ambassador.Credit: Jonathan Curr's Facebook page
Barak Ravid

Israel is striving to end the a months-long crisis over the Foreign Ministry’s refusal to accept Wellington’s plan to have one ambassador operating in both Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

An Israeli diplomat visited New Zealand a few weeks ago and delivered a letter from Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman to his counterpart in Wellington, Murray McCully, on the matter.

“I would like to affirm our shared interest in solving the accreditation of New Zealand’s ambassador to Israel,” Lieberman wrote McCully in the letter dated December 28, a copy of which has been obtained by Haaretz. “I believe that solving this issue will better facilitate ongoing contacts between us and contribute to a further enhancement of our bilateral relations.”

The letter was delivered by the head of the Foreign Ministry’s Pacific division, Michael Ronen, who raised the matter in talks with his counterpart in Wellington.

A senior Israeli official said the head of the New Zealand Foreign Ministry’s department on the Middle East and Africa told Ronen that Wellington also wanted to solve the crisis as quickly as possible.

“The officials in New Zealand told us they wanted their ambassador accredited soon so he would be able to attend the inauguration ceremony for the next Israeli government,” the official said, referring to the cabinet to be formed after the March 17 election.

In early September, Lieberman and McCully met on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York, but that effort proved fruitless and New Zealand still does not have a credited ambassador to Israel. In his letter, Lieberman wrote that during the New York meeting, McCully agreed to “examine various options” to end the crisis.

Early in the affair, New Zealand rejected Jerusalem’s proposal that the deputy ambassador or a lower-ranking diplomat at the embassy be in charge of contacts with the PA. Despite the good will on both sides, no proposal is yet on the table to end the crisis.

A senior Israeli official said Jerusalem was being conciliatory because New Zealand joined the UN Security Council in early January. Lieberman sent a letter congratulating McCully on his country’s new role, which it will hold for two years.

Since the Palestinians began their campaigns at the Security Council and the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Israel needs good relations with New Zealand more than ever. After failing in the Security Council to secure nine votes in a statehood bid, the Palestinians said they would try again in January under the council’s new composition.

Israeli Foreign Ministry officials said Sunday the crisis was damaging and could have been solved as far back as September. Now, as New Zealand’s vote on the Security Council becomes critical, efforts are being made to find a solution as quickly as possible.

Diplomatic relations between Israel and New Zealand — which has no embassy in Tel Aviv — are managed by New Zealand’s embassy in Ankara, which is in charge of several other countries in the region. New Zealand’s ambassador in Turkey, Jonathan Curr, serves as a non-resident ambassador to Israel and the PA. He attends meetings in Jerusalem and Ramallah once every month or two.

Curr had been due to arrive in Israel for a week in September to present his credentials to President Reuven Rivlin. After he told Foreign Ministry officials about a Ramallah ceremony where he would introduce himself to President Mahmoud Abbas as New Zealand’s man in charge of relations with the PA, Jerusalem said this breached both diplomatic protocol and the Oslo Accords. Curr canceled his trip to Israel.

Curr was surprised by Israel’s response in part because his predecessors had served as envoys to Israel and the PA at the same time without stirring any opposition in Jerusalem.