NZ stance on Middle East should take account of changing realities

NZ stance on Middle East should take account of changing realities

John Minto’s call on our new government and foreign minister to adopt his formula for changes in New Zealand’s relations with Israel completely ignores what is now actually happening in the Middle East.

Two Arab states – United Arab Emirates and Bahrain – signed the Abrahamic Accords with Israel on 15 September. They are the first normalisations of relations between Israel and Arab countries since the peace treaties with Egypt (1979) and Jordan (1994). The full titles of the agreements set out their scope: “Treaty of Peace, Diplomatic Relations and Full Normalisation between the United Arab Emirates and the State of Israel”; and “Declaration of Peace, Cooperation, and Constructive Diplomatic and Friendly Relations between Bahrain and Israel”.

The accords are named after the patriarch Abraham, regarded as a shared patriarch and prophet by both Islam and Judaism (and Christianity).

A third Arab state, Sudan, formally agreed on October 23 to normalise ties with Israel. It has already granted Israel’s El Al airline the right to fly across Sudanese airspace, while the two Gulf States and Israel have exchanged flights and official delegations.

There is considerable symbolism to Sudan’s move towards peaceful relations with Israel. It was in Khartoum in August 1968, after the Six-Day War, that the Arab League resolved on “The three No’s”: No peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, no negotiations with Israel. This combined opposition to Israel was first eroded by the Egyptian and Jordanian peace treaties, and is now further diminished by the Abrahamic Accords and Sudan.

The Arab League refused to condemn the Abrahamic Accords.

What it means is that there is a major realignment in the Middle East, reflecting the realisation by Arab states that their interests lie much more in pursuing normal trade, cultural, diplomatic and political relations with Israel, than in staying with a worn-out 50-year-old declaration of antagonism.

This shift also takes into account the concern of many Arab countries over increasing aggression from Iran. In an unstable region, they see links with Israeli technological and military expertise as providing greater collective security and economic benefits.

These changes see the Palestinians increasingly less able to coerce Arab states into supporting their cause, especially since those states have tired of repeated Palestinian rejection of statehood opportunities (such as at Camp David-Taba in 2000-01, and from Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert in 2008).

Minto blithely calls for the “right of return” for Palestinian refugees. He ignores the fact that while there is a claim to return, there is no such right in international law. Unravelling the complexity of the refugee situation – which by a manufactured quirk sees the number of Palestinian “refugees” grow each year – is closely related to the ongoing and problematic existence of the United Nations Relief and Work Agency; and here New Zealand, a regular financial contributor over many years, could offer valuable mediation skills (similar to its Bougainville success).

Minto, and those in the recent Stuff correspondence who support his punitive anti-Israel views, should take into full account the wider shifts in the Middle East before urging rash, one-sided populist action on our new Government.