New Zealand's New Foreign Minister Wants to End Diplomatic Crisis With Israel

In first official act, Gerry Brownlee sends letter to Netanyahu with aims to end diplomatic breakdown that occurred after UN vote against Israel in December 2016

New Zealand's new foreign minister Gerry Brownlee.
Wikimedia Commons / Master Sgt. Adrian Cadiz

New Zealand wants to end the crisis in relations with Israel, wrote the country's new foreign minister, Gerry Brownlee, to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in his first official decision after taking office on Tuesday.

Relations between the two countries soured after New Zealand co-sponsored UN Security Council Resolution 2334 on Israeli settlements in December 2016. A senior Israeli official says the communique from Brownlee is New Zealand's first overture since then.

“We received the letter and are studying what it means,” says the source, calling it a major and positive reconciliatory step.

On December 23, 2016, the UN Security Council passed a resolution condemning the settlement construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and ruling that the settlements are illegal. The vote took place after New Zealand, Senegal, Malaysia and Venezuela resubmitted the resolution that Egypt had originally presented but withdrew from a day earlier.

Some hours before the vote, Netanyahu, who is also Israel’s foreign minister, spoke with then-New Zealand Foreign Minister Murray McCully, demanding that New Zealand not push for the resolution. Threatening in an unprecedented manner, the Israeli premier announced that if New Zealand pursued the resolution, Israel would view it as a declaration of war and it would ruin the two nations’ ties.

Immediately after the vote, Netanyahu made good on his threat and ordered Israel’s ambassador to New Zealand to come home immediately for consultations. Since then, there has been no Israeli ambassador in the country. Contact between the two governments has been almost entirely paralyzed and relations between the two nations entered a deep crisis.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shakes hands with New Zealand Foreign Minister Murray McCully, November 19, 2015.
Haim Tzach/GPO

Western diplomats told Haaretz that during Netanyahu’s visit to Australia some months ago, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull advocated ending the breakdown in relations with New Zealand. Netanyahu clarified that New Zealand would have to take the first step and make a gesture towards Israel.

On Tuesday New Zealand did just that after McCully, whom Israel viewed as a hostile element who was personally responsible for the UN Security Council move, was replaced.

Mere hours after Brownlee was sworn in, he made his first official decision and sent the letter to Netanyahu.

“I’ve sent a letter to Mr. Netanyahu yesterday firstly congratulating them on their national day but expressing a desire for the Israeli-New Zealand relationship to get back on track and to do that by recognizing that we’ve got synergies and innovation and agriculture and various other things like that,” Brownlee told the New Zealand Herald.

He added that he believes the letter will enable the foreign ministries of Israel and New Zealand to start talks ahead of resuming diplomatic relations, saying he would like the crisis to end by October, when Israel will be marking the 100th anniversary of the battle for Be’er Sheva during World War I – a battle in which Australian and New Zealand soldiers met their deaths.