Seeing few gaps, upbeat New Zealand to push for Israeli-Palestinian talks

As Wellington takes reins of UN Security Council, foreign minister says sides not far apart, hints he won’t support resolution imposing conditions

Joshua Davidovich is The Times of Israel's Deputy Editor

Prime Minister Netanyahu with New Zealand's Foreign Minister Murray McCully in Jerusalem, June 3, 2015.  (Flash90)
Prime Minister Netanyahu with New Zealand's Foreign Minister Murray McCully in Jerusalem, June 3, 2015. (Flash90)

New Zealand will use its leadership role in the United Nations Security Council to push for direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians in the coming months, Wellington’s top diplomat said in an interview published Sunday.

Foreign Minister Murray McCully said New Zealand was cognizant of Jerusalem’s jitters regarding efforts by the Security Council to impose conditions on Israel, and his country would not push in that direction when it takes up the Security Council presidency later this week.

“I think what they’re really allergic to is the idea that the Security Council might start the process by imposing a whole lot of conditions, conditions in their view that would favor the other side,” McCully told New Zealand’s TV3. “I think they’re less allergic to the notion that the Security Council might try and bring the two parties together, and that’s the sort of thing that we’ve got in mind.”

The remarks were likely a reference to a French Security Council proposal that would call for peace talks within an 18-month timeframe, after which Paris would unilaterally recognize a Palestinian state.

The issue is expected to be moved to the top of the agenda in July, once talks over Iran’s nuclear program wrap up.

McCully hinted New Zealand may not wait for the end of talks, expected to go past a June 30 deadline, to push the issue, citing frustration over constant delays.

“We’re being told the council can’t deal with the issue now because we’ve got to wait for the Iran talks to end. We had to wait for the Israeli elections. Then we’re going to have to wait for the American elections. Next thing it’ll be the elections in Zimbabwe we’ll have to wait for,” he said.

McCully, who visited the region in early June, said he believed the Israelis and Palestinians were close together on most issues, and thus just needed to be put around the same table to reach an agreement.

“I think that the two parties could make surprising progress, but you’ve got to get them in a room, and that’s been the big problem. They haven’t sat in a room. They haven’t had direct talks,” he said.

He also called the US role in peace talks “not sufficient,” saying the international community needed to be more actively involved.

“We need to have the rest of the international community playing its role,” he said.

Speaking to the Times of Israel in early June, an Israeli Foreign Ministry official said Wellington may introduce its own Security Council resolution to jump start peace efforts.

Wellington has been considered a close friend of Jerusalem, especially under the center-right government of Prime Minister John Key, who is Jewish.

Israel vehemently rejects using multilateral organs such as the UN to coerce it into any sort of action vis-à-vis the Palestinians, arguing that progress can only be achieved in direct bilateral negotiations.

Relations between Wellington and Jerusalem have had their ups and down in recent years, including a row in 2004 over claims that two Mossad agents in New Zealand had been stealing passports, which led to diplomatic sanctions against Israel that were only lifted years later, after then-foreign minister Shalom, the current vice prime minister, apologized “for the involvement of Israeli citizens in such activities.”

Last year, Israel was angry about Wellington sending one man, Jonathan Curr, to serve as ambassador to both Israel and the Palestinian Authority and refused to accredit him.

In February, New Zealand caved and appointed a different diplomat as envoy to the PA, paving the way for Curr to present his credentials to President Reuven Rivlin in late April.

Raphael Ahren contributed to this report

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