It has been long-standing, bipartisan policy that New Zealand supports a negotiated two-state solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict. This position was articulated by Nanaia Mahuta in 2015, when she told Maori TV that

“…an Independent Palestinian State, which Labour has supported – we first voiced it in 2005, is a matter of negotiation and it will require an ongoing effort…” Nanaia Mahuta on Maori TV, 2005

While this is in line with most other democratic nations, there have been some actions from New Zealand inconsistent with the rhetoric, including:

There are now renewed calls for yet another action that would further tip the scales away from a balanced approach to the conflict that the New Zealand government claims exists and to which it seems to aspire. Anti-Israel activists are calling on New Zealand to recognise “the State of Palestine”.

To understand why the recognition of Palestine as a state would run contrary to the peace effort, one just needs to look at the pattern of actions of Mahmoud Abbas and the PA to date which have amounted to stunt after stunt designed expressly to avoid direct negotiations with Israel.

Recognising Palestinian statehood without negotiations is simply the next ploy by anti-Israel activists and Abbas of maintaining the status quo. Rather than negotiate, Arab Palestinians have pushed for statehood through the ICC; promoted terror in schools and paid terrorists; promoted the Boycott campaign against Israel – that German government compared to the Nazi boycott of Jews – even while the PA has not officially supported this tactic; undermined the Jewish connection to the land; and outright dismissed peace proposals, including the most recent Trump plan, without any counter proposal.

Simply recognising “the State of Palestine” without negotiations for a solution to the conflict would encourage the Palestinian Authority to continue to refuse negotiations, incite violence, and campaign to destroy Israel.

A balanced approach would be to recognise that true peace is more likely made through negotiations and use whatever political leverage New Zealand has to encourage Palestinian leaders to come to the negotiating table rather than endorse their obstinance.

Not only would recognising “the State of Palestine” before there is a negotiated solution be another New Zealand government action making a mockery of any pretence of being an “honest broker”, such recognition may be in contravention of international law.

Two of the four criteria of statehood set out in Article 1 of the Montevideo Convention on the Rights and Duties of States, 1933, are manifestly not satisfied by any Palestinian entity. That is, there is no clear single, centralised government, nor does “Palestine” have the capacity to enter into relations with the other states.

The last elections to determine leadership of the Arab Palestinian people was in 2005, and there is a deep, often violent and continuing divide between the PLO and Palestinian Authority (PA) which controls parts of the West Bank, and Hamas which controls the Gaza Strip. As Peter Wertheim wrote,

“[The PLO and Hamas] are at loggerheads on the most basic questions, not only concerning peace with Israel and other issues of foreign and domestic policy but also on the essential nature of a future Palestinian State. Thus, for reasons which are entirely internal to Palestinian society, there is no reasonable prospect for the foreseeable future of any government being formed which would exercise effective control over both the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and would have the capacity to give effect to any agreements purportedly entered into by “Palestine.” Peter Wertheim

The other two criteria for statehood in international law are a permanent population and a defined territory. Although civil control has been handed over to the Palestinian authorities in Areas A and B, and internal security control in Area A, under the Oslo Accords Israel retains responsibility for essential matters such as external security and external relations throughout the whole of the West Bank and, notwithstanding the withdrawal of the military regime and transfer of extensive powers, Israel still retains “reversionary” powers in
Areas A and B. Recognition of “Palestine” other than in Gaza would be a direct interference in the required negotiations over borders that is an international law norm.

Furthermore, none of the leadership bodies claiming to represent “Palestine” satisfy the conditions of Article 4 of the UN Charter that requires UN Member States to be “peace loving,” and to be able and willing to carry out all obligations under the UN Charter. Although these are not legal conditions for statehood, given the political context of the Israel/Palestine conflict it would be unwise for the UN Security Council or individual UN member states to recognise “Palestine”as a state if it is unable to meet the criteria for UN membership.

It is telling that the most vocal proponents of countries unilaterally recognising “the State of Palestine” are the same activists who lobby to boycott Israel and share the goal of Hamas and the PLO – the destruction of Israel, either by violence or through diplomatic means.

The local anti-Israel groups reaching out to our new foreign minister, such as the PSNA led by John Minto and Neil Scott, hold as their official position the dismantlement of the Jewish state for what they call the one-state solution. Taking their position into consideration, their advocating for the recognition of a Palestinian state makes little sense, unless it is designed to foul relationships between New Zealand and Israel and to ultimately destroy the Jewish nation. Such groups want nothing more than to render Israel a pariah state in the world community. Our foreign minister would be advised to study closely the groups claiming to make pleas on behalf of the Palestinian people.

It is also telling that the Abrahamic Accords between Israel and the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, and the recent normalisation treaty between Israel and Sudan do not reference the Palestinians. This is a clear signal that the Arab world is moving away from the staunch opposition to Jewish self-determination in their indigenous land. It sends an unequivocal message to the Arab Palestinian leaders that unless they start to negotiate in good faith they shouldn’t count on ongoing support. And some Arab Palestinians support this approach – they suffer under the rule of Hamas or Abbas.

The new Labour government has a choice to make about how it deals with foreign policy settings around the Arab-Israeli conflict. The status quo could continue or the government could act more in line with the MFAT mantra that foreign policy positions with regard to Israel are “fair and balanced”.

Stopping the funding of hate and incitement taught to children would be the most basic step to take. The government could also condemn the BDS campaign and stand up to MPs who promote it – as co-leader of the Green Party, James Shaw, has recently done, and his colleagues in Germany have clearly expressed. New Zealand could follow traditional allies and vote against the biased resolutions at the UNGA. Showing support for Israel in a way that would also protect Kiwis, would be to designate Hamas, PFLP, and Hezbollah as terror organisations; and the government could build on the innovation agreement by placing the NZ ambassador to Israel in Jerusalem, instead of Ankara.

These actions would also be in line with humanitarian considerations, historical fact, international law, and simple morality.

The onus is now on Hon Minister Mahuta and Rt Hon Prime Minister Ardern as to how they will approach the conflict. They could take more extreme anti-Israel measures, they could maintain the imbalanced status quo, or they could ensure that New Zealand’s actions are more in line with the rhetoric.