The New Conservative party has put out a press release urging the New Zealand government to “do more to support Israel”.
The press release and associated commitments refer to a number of incidents that have had a damaging effect on the relationship between Israel and New Zealand, and puts forward concrete steps to strengthen ties and promote peace.
The statements have been welcomed by the Israel Institute of New Zealand. Below, we consider each of the commitments put forward and explain why they are positive gestures.
- Move the New Zealand Embassy to Jerusalem immediately
As IINZ wrote in response to the National Party discussion document, the current New Zealand ambassador to Israel, Wendy Hinton, is based in Ankara (Turkey).
Putting a New Zealand ambassador in Jerusalem will send two strong signals: that the relationship is valued and important; and that New Zealand understands that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital.
Recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital is important because it affirms that a sovereign state should have the right to determine the location of its own capital. It does not need to preclude negotiations over East Jerusalem. West Jerusalem – where the Israeli Houses of Parliament are situated has been part of Israel since 1948.
- Recognise Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights.
The Golan Heights were taken from Syria in the 1967 Six Day War where Israel was forced to defend herself. The area is mountainous and overlooks communities in Israel and Jordan.
If the land were to be in the control of a military force that was antagonistic toward Israel (or Jordan), hundreds of thousands of civilian lives would be in danger. Especially with the Syrian civil war continuing, there is also a possibility that hostile actors could come to control such a strategically important position if Israel was not in control. As Dr Mike Doran told IINZ, “it would be a recipe for disaster”.
It is notable that the recent US recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights caused some media attention but no significant or violent opposition from Arab states.
- Apologise to Israel for New Zealand’s sponsoring of Resolution 2334.
National Party leader, Simon Bridges, has acknowledged that New Zealand “got it wrong” by co-sponsoring United Nations Security Council Resolution 2334 alongside Malaysia, Senegal, and Venezuela. A formal apology would be a logical next step and a sign that New Zealand is committed to treating Israel fairly on the international stage.
- Strengthen trade ties with Israel
The New Conservative Party stated it “recognises Israel’s world-leading advances in technology, and their increasing financial growth and stability as a nation. We would like to see an innovation agreement signed between New Zealand and Israel fast tracked to allow us both to benefit from technology gains.”
Signing the innovation agreement is also something IINZ suggested in response to the National Party discussion document. The scope of bilateral trade between Israel and Australia is estimated at $2 billion annually. This is, in part, due to an innovation agreement and a commitment from the Australian government to grow the mutually beneficial relationship.
- Support a negotiated solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict
Israel has longstanding peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan, based on negotiation between willing parties. Israel unilaterally withdrew from Gaza in 2005 hoping for peace but without a commitment from the other side. Gaza has turned into a terror strong-hold from which rockets are launched, incendiary balloons are sent and tunnels into Israel constructed.
A negotiated solution is the only way to ensure the best chance of lasting peace. It should be noted that Israel has put forward at least three proposals for a resolution to the Palestinian conflict, for which the Palestinian leadership has repeatedly rejected.
- Uphold the right for Israel to defend itself against any international threats and protect its borders
It would seem a simple gesture to support the right of a sovereign state to defend itself. However, just as the debate about acknowledging Israel’s right to decide where the capital is, some nations do not support Israel’s right to self-defence.
This manifests in the accusations of “disproportionate” responses and condemnations that do not include mention of the terror acts Israel is protecting against. It also manifests as a lack of acknowledgment of the extraordinary lengths that the Israeli Defence Forces go to in order to protect civilian lives of Israelis and also Palestinians.
- Encourage and financially assist surrounding countries (Arab nations) to accept and grant full citizenship to refugees
The Jews who were driven from Arab lands when the 1948 war raged were absorbed by the fledgling Jewish nation, just like Pakistan accepted Muslim refugees and India took in Hindu refugees in that war around the same time. Sadly, the refugees that fled the British Mandate of Palestine were not welcomed by their Arab brothers and sisters. The perpetuation of “refugee” status for people born in Lebanon or Jordan, for example, cannot help peace.
It may be naive to think that the reason Arab countries do not accept Arab Palestinians is only because of financial assistance, but the idea of encouraging the absorption of refugees would be in keeping with all other displaced people in the world and put an end to the exceptionalism that is applied to the Arab Palestinians.
- Condemn any United Nations efforts to continue UNRWA, and look for sensible solutions that will ensure the holistic wellbeing of refugees. Immediately cease new Zealand’s funding of UNRWA
The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) is an obstacle to peace. Over the past nine years, New Zealand has contributed more than $10m to UNRWA but has never once publicly condemned their egregious inefficiency, history of staff inciting and supporting terror, use of schools and other buildings as militant bases, or allegations of corruption.
Discontinuing funding to the organisation and replacing it with other solutions to support those in need would be a massive step toward peace.
- Harsh penalties for those participating in any antisemitic violence
All violence should be dealt with through the justice system. Violence aggravated by hatred should be dealt with harsher sentences, regardless of the target of that hate.
- Adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism.
The IHRA Working definition has been adopted by more than seventeen nations. It provides a useful guide to determining what is and is not antisemitic. The definition is especially useful in identifying the “new antisemitism” that manifests as a denial of the right of Jews to have self-determination in their indigenous lands.