Netanyahu’s re-election will not help Israel-N.Z. relations

On 9 April 2019 Israel will go to the polls to elect a new Government. The poll will be a referendum on incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the right wing leader of the governing Likud Party. It will be a referendum on whether Israel continues the hugely divisive approach it has adopted towards its neighbours and the Palestinian people.

Mr Netanyahu, who is fighting allegations of fraudulent activity and bribery, has long since maintained a hard line on Palestine. His tenure as Prime Minister has been marked by a progressive worsening of the relationship, which has seen Israel announce it has full jurisdiction over Jerusalem – a city and holy site not only for Jews, but Muslims and Christians as well; progressive annexation by stealth of Palestinian lands and as of today, an intention to annex the West Bank.

Mr Netanyahu has maintained an even harder line on Iran. During his tenure, he has done his utmost to sabotage the globally recognized deal worked out between President Barak Obama and Iranian leaders over Iran’s nuclear programme. Under the deal worked out, Iran will shed any capacity it had to make the weapons grade uranium needed for nuclear weapons. It will hand over enough centrifuges that it cannot proceed Highly Enriched Uranium manufacture. It will modify its reactor so that it cannot process radioactive material into anything other than low grade waste.

In New Zealand I have heard very little support for Mr Netanyahu from New Zealanders, once they have been made aware of his policies and conduct on the international stage. Many have openly doubted whether Israel seriously wants peace in Gaza, or whether it is conducting a policy of annexation by stealth, because to do so in public would be to invite huge international condemnation and possibly an uncontrollable outbreak of violence.

As a nation that supports the two state solution New Zealand will not benefit in any way from the re-election of Mr Netanyahu. Nor will our Jewish, Muslim or other religious communities with significant representations in Israel or Palestine. Mr Netanyahu has made very clear by his on going annexation of Palestine that it has no place in his vision of the Middle East, and that Israel is somehow the rightful occupier of Palestinian lands.

As a nation that has a strong tradition of international law and peace, the re-election of Mr Netanyahu will serve to undermine the respect New Zealand has for Israel’s commitment to any peace negotiations – namely because Mr Netanyahu himself has no time for them. His recent annexation of the Golan Heights, long occupied by Israel and now recognized by the United States Government has enraged many in the Arab world and further shown the lack of regard to international law that permeates Israeli politics.

In both the short and long versions of this post Israel will be doing itself and the world around it a favour if Mr Netanyahu is not returned to office on Tuesday 9 April 2019.

New Zealand’s love-hate relationship with Israel

Yesterday the Jewish state of Israel turned 70. יום הולדת שמח (Happy Birthday). As Israel begins its 71st year as a modern nation, it is one of the wealthiest nations for its small size on the planet, yet also one of the most divisive.

I have said this in the past, so it should not be anything new to anyone:

Israel has a right to exist. And like all nations it has a right to self defence.

What it does not have the right to do anymore than any other nation is to annex territory, whether it is by stealth using creeping occupation or annexation by military force. Israel is practicing the former in Palestine. It has also used military force at times involving the use of illegal weapons such as cluster munitions and white phosphorous. The 2008-09 war involved artillery bombardment and heavy use of air power.

Unfortunately, whilst the U.S. and – if it goes to war with Iran – Saudi Arabia turn a blind eye to its disregard for international law, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who has all but said Palestine does not exist will continue to show contempt for the international community.

I have met people from Israel and I have met people from Palestine. One of the casual staff at work is a Palestinian. When I was moderating a group on Yahoo! for expatriates living in New Zealand, I met an Israeli couple and their young daughter. I don’t judge either by what is going on in their respective lands. Both the Israeli family and the Palestinian colleague have told me they moved to get away from the violence.

I cannot say I blame them at all. Like I think is the case with a lot of New Zealanders, I look at the current violence in the Middle East with frustration, sadness and – if I am honest – a bit of fear about where the simmering conflict in Syria could end up. It is a conflict we cannot really have any influence over, though there were many, like myself who were very proud when New Zealand and other countries passed a resolution condemning Israel’s occupation of Palestinian lands in the dying days of its chairmanship of the U.N. Security Council.  I look at the looming confrontation between Israel and Iran. Age old hatred and suspicion will never die among the older politicians and citizenry who never knew peace, or – in Iran’s case – the right to dissent against bigotry.

Those who have been to Israel have been really impressed with its history, its culture and there is no doubt that Israel as a modern nation has contributed much to the world. Its companies have created an impressive array of technologies. It has a well educated population. I had the honour of attending a Jewish wedding in the United States in 2017, which I thoroughly enjoyed learning the customs of.

And as the 70th Anniversary of the Day of Nakba (yawm alnakba)is commemorated in Palestine, I hope that all those near the border districts will hold their commemorations peacefully. Israeli’s and Palestinians can argue over who is to blame, but I suspect I speak for a lot of New Zealanders when I say that all I really want is some sort of peace.

New Zealand U.N. vote NOT anti-American

As the furore over the American decision to acknowledge Jerusalem as the capital of Israel grows, the United Nations Security Council has voted against the U.S. move 14-1. And the United Nations General Assembly voted 128 to 9 with Canada and Australia abstaining

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has been very clear on the issue.

Contrary to the popular belief of Fox viewers, the international vote against the United States moving its capital to Jerusalem is not an expression of anti-Americanism. In the context of New Zealand, it is no more so than the 1985 resolution condemning France for the Rainbow Warrior bombing is anti-French. Both were the result of their respective Governments making poor choices on the international stage that the world saw as non compatible with it’s understanding of international law. Many French were horrified by what their country had done and so too are many Americans horrified at what it is doing in the Middle East today, and that has to be recognized.

Anti-Americanism in my view is an act openly contemptuous of America as nation or Americans as a people. It is stated in a way that is deliberately intended to degrade and have a strain of hatred in it. Anti-American rhetoric is what you hear from the Ayatollahs of Iran or the propaganda of such organizations as al-Qaida. I do not see such ugliness emanating from New Zealand or the United Nations General Assembly.

Nor is the vote anti-Israeli. The world has never recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Contrary to the belief of the Prime Minister of Israel, the world has long recognized  that the issue of Jerusalem can only be resolved by negotiations in the broader two state context. Further contrary to his belief, this is not an anti-Israeli vote. The idea that it is, is insulting and inflammatory. Many Israeli’s are quite horrified by the Government of their country and the systematic way in which it is slowly but deliberately taking Palestinian lands and eradicating any evidence of Palestine. They know about the deliberate annexation by stealth using the establishment of new villages to stake a claim to Palestinian land. They know about the demolition of orchards depriving Palestinians of one of only a few sources of income. I assume then they also know that the street names in Palestinian territories are changing as they come under Israeli control. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu knows full well what his country is doing and even endorses it – he just will not admit it because it would be an own goal and a point blank admission that Palestinians are telling the truth.

I have stated before my position on Israel. What needs to be said is that this requires international co-operation. In return for Israel withdrawing from the lands seized in1967 and 1973, Russia must tell Iran to stop supporting Hezbollah, HAMAS and other militants. Palestine must give recognition to Israel’s 1967 borders and cease all militant activity, disarm them and disband the militant wings of these and other organizations.

Neither side is perfect and both have done things that they should not have. But there are other historic players who need to be acknowledged. Britain and France took over swathes of the Middle East in 1916-17. As part of the British mandate a Jewish state was established as a result of the Balfour Declaration. The Arab interpretation of the Declaration was that an Arab state would also be established. None was and when one looks at the causes of anti-Israeli sentiment today among Arab nation’s, this is is most likely a major reason for such ‘ll feeling.

New Zealand must condemn Jerusalem decision

On Wednesday, New Zealand time the President of the United States, Donald Trump made the shocking announcement that America would recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

New Zealand must condemn Mr Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. We must not follow America and move our diplomatic mission there. The media and the politicians have ignored the history of the Palestinian struggle and it will come back to haunt them.

Not surprisingly Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is over the moon. And in recognition of it, against the walls of the old city, the American and Israeli flags were projected side by side.

In effect Mr Trump has ripped the Middle East process into shreds of paper and then thrown them in the face of the Arab world, the Palestinians. The Israeli Prime Minister and his hawkish Government, plus the hard line Republicans in the United States are the only ones applauding.

The effect is more than to just anger the Palestinians and the Arab world. Along with his inflammatory efforts dealing with North Korea and Iran, Mr Trump has now added a third place that he is offside with around the world. What are the conflict around the world at greatest risk of turning into international conflicts with potentially world wide consequences? There are a few:

  1. North Korea – on tenterhooks, with one false move possibly starting an international conflict that has regional, possibly global consequences
  2. Iran – not on tenterhooks yet, but creeping that way with America, Saudi Arabia and Israel ratcheting up the inflammatory rhetoric despite its compliance with the U.N. nuclear deal
  3. Eastern Europe – high risk, with N.A.T.O. forces building up and Russia actively seeking to counter their influence, and a boil over could rapidly escalate into an international conflict
  4. South China Sea – not on tenterhooks, but potentially the one with the biggest risks as a direct military confrontation between super powers is not likely to end well for anyone
  5. Palestine – comparatively stable for now, and would not have made this unique list but for Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel

In 1917, whilst World War 1 was going full bore in Europe, Britain and France embarked on a bit of empire building in the Middle East. In 1916 two new nations were carved out, with borders paying scant attention to the ethnic or religious communities there. Their protestations were put down brutally and the new nations were called Iraq and Syria. In 1920 Winston Churchill – the same Winston Churchill who would be lauded as a hero 20 years later for staring down Nazi-era Germany – authorized the bombing and gassing of Iraqi rebels. Britain and France wonder these days why they are not so popular in the Middle East.

Palestine and the Arab lands did not do much better under the Balfour Declaration and people wonder why there is so much animosity in the Middle East. Let us have a look at how the Palestinian animosity towards Israel and the West came to be.

The Balfour Declaration came about for several reasons:

  • World War 1 was not going well for the British and it was hoped that by announcing a formal Jewish state in recently occupied lands, Britain could increase the support among the Jewish communities in major allies and neutral countries
  • Britain wanted to create a land bridge between crucial Middle territories such as Egypt with its “crown jewel” India – a British backed Jewish state would be part of that land bridge
  • Despite agreeing with France on how to carve up the Middle East, Britain viewed its dominance in the region as essential

In the Treaty of Versailles, signed on 28 June 1919, Britain was entrusted with the temporary administration of Palestine on the understanding it would work with the Arabs and the Jews. The Jewish population increased rapidly in Palestine. Unlike the Jews, the Arabs were not granted any sort of nationhood despite helping Britain with the war against Turkey. Animosity over this continues to the present day.

So, it is against this background that Mr Trump has made a highly inflammatory and totally irresponsible decision to support Israel having its capital in Jerusalem. Combined with his refusal to rebuke Mr Netanyahu for Israel’s ongoing annexation by stealth of Palestine, this effectively amounts to a non-military declaration of war against Palestine and it should be roundly condemned.

And it is.


New Zealand wimps out to Israel

Six months ago just before Christmas, I and many others were absolutely delighted when the Government of New Zealand announced it had sponsored a United Nations Resolution on Palestine. The resolution (2334) called for the condemnation of the Israeli settlement building programme on lands that it has occupied since 1967. It was drawn up with the support of Venezuela, Malaysia and Senegal.

It was a proud moment for New Zealand at the United Nations, coming to an end of two years as a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council. Our neutrality had been restored and preference for a two state solution made clear.

Until this week when Minister of Foreign Affairs, Gerry Brownlee said that he did not endorse the Resolution..

I am disgusted. Israel did nothing to deserve a change of course on our part. Indeed their response was bad enough that a lot of people were wondering what else could have been done, short of outright war. It was more like a irrational spoilt brat throwing a hissy fit because the global community had put it in its place.

It is not that I hate Israel. It is not that I am anti-Semitic.

It is because since the 6 Day War in 1967, Israel has illegally occupied lands that it seized in that war and the Yom Kippur War of 1973. It is because Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has studiously ignored United Nations rulings and flagrantly contravened them when it has suited him and his party. It is because there is illegal home building going on over top of Palestinian lands that Mr Netanyahu refuses to recognize as anything but Israeli.

If Israel quit those lands and went back to its 1967 borders, I don’t think anyone would have a problem with the the wall it has also been building these last few years. I do not think the opposition against Israel would be anywhere near as strong.

I thought we were a nation that stands for the rule of law. I thought we were a nation that was built on the premise of the “fair go”, a nation that stood up for the little guy and tried to level the playing field where it could. The actions of this country in appeasing Israel by wimping out on what was initially something received very well across the board – a United Nations resolution condemning Israeli house building in the occupied territories, in settlements that have no legal right to exist – are by no means something to be proud of.

It shows that with the appointment of Gerry Brownlee as Minister of Foreign Affairs, we have a Minister who is as happy to bungle on the world stage as he is to bungle in local affairs. Mr Brownlee knew what he was doing when he refused to endorse the resolution.

Without Israel ceasing the occupation and annexation of Palestine, a two state solution is not possible. Mr Netanyahu is clearly not interested in it, as his latest demands for the dissolution of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine clearly shows.

Sorry Palestine!