Israel and New Zealand restore ties after spat over UN resolution

Israeli ambassador to return to Wellington months after recall over anti-settlement Security Council vote

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) meets with Foreign Minister of New Zealand Murray McCully  in Jerusalem, November 17, 2016. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) meets with Foreign Minister of New Zealand Murray McCully in Jerusalem, November 17, 2016. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

Israel on Tuesday said it will restore its diplomatic relations with New Zealand, returning its Israeli ambassador to Wellington, months after the two countries had a falling-out over a UN Security Council resolution condemning West Bank settlements.

The announcement by the Foreign Ministry came the day after New Zealand Prime Minister Bill English sent a letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressing regret over the damage to ties that were caused by New Zealand’s co-sponsoring of UN Resolution 2334.

The contentious resolution, also co-sponsored by Senegal, Malaysia and Venezuela and approved on December 23, declared that Israel’s policy of building settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank has “no legal validity and constitutes a flagrant violation under international law and a major obstacle to the achievement of the two-state solution and a just, lasting and comprehensive peace.”

English wrote that Israel’s ambassador was welcome to return to Wellington, the capital of New Zealand.

Netanyahu responded to the letter by instructing Foreign Ministry Director-General Yuval Rotem to notify New Zealand authorities that Ambassador Itzhak Gerberg will return to his post.

English’s letter followed a phone call to Netanyahu days earlier that was the culmination of several months of discreet diplomatic contacts led by Rotem and the Foreign Ministry’s Deputy Director-General for Asia and the Pacific Mark Sofer.

The ministry did not say when Gerberg would return to New Zealand.

Israel in December withdrew its ambassador and postponed travel rights of New Zealand’s ambassador to Israel, based in Turkey.

Netanyahu was angry at New Zealand’s involvement in the UN resolution, which passed with 14 yes votes and the abstention of the United States. The Israeli prime minister called then-foreign minister Murray McCully and reportedly threatened to interpret New Zealand’s sponsorship as a “declaration of war.”

In February Israel permanently downgraded its diplomatic ties with New Zealand and Senegal as a punishment for the resolution. Jerusalem has no diplomatic ties with the resolution’s other two co-sponsors, Malaysia and Venezuela.

Last week Israel announced the resumption of full diplomatic relations with Senegal after Netanyahu met with Senegal’s President Macky Sall at the ECOWAS summit of West African leaders in Liberia.

Israel recalled its ambassador to Dakar, Paul Hirschson, following hte passage of the resolution, and canceled its foreign aid programs in Senegal as part of a rash of retaliatory steps against countries that sponsored the measure.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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