Opinion: Brownlee's unseemly kowtowing to Israel leaves a big mess to clear up

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It is going to take something far more substantial and meaningful than lessons in "appropriate diplomatic language" to clear up the mess left by Gerry Brownlee's first foray as Foreign Minister.

Despite the Prime Minister not so subtly urging his Cabinet colleague to take a crash course in statecraft, it is hard to picture senior officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs offering tutorials to their minister on such protocol.

There would be little point in doing so.

McCully speaks to Q+A about the last eight years as Foreign Minister as he exits the role tomorrow.
Source: Q+A

Brownlee has been in Parliament for more than 20 years, nearly nine of those as a Cabinet minister. Of note is his close to three-year stint as defence minister - a kind of apprenticeship for the more heavyweight foreign affairs role.

Brownlee is thus well acquainted with the rules and conventions of international discourse.

In his rush to put New Zealand's relations with Israel "back on track", however, those norms deserted him.

No sooner had Brownlee been officially installed as Foreign Minister than he was dictating a grovelling letter to Israel's prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

This was accompanied by Brownlee indicating in numerous interviews that he was unimpressed with the prominent role New Zealand played in getting Security Council backing for efforts to revive the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations.

His dismissive verdict is a very large slap in the face for Murray McCully, his predecessor in the foreign affairs portfolio.

The latter had made progress in the peace process one of the prime objectives of New Zealand's two-year term on the Security Council.

The resolution co-sponsored by New Zealand and passed by the council late last year rebuked Israel for continuing to establish and expand Jewish settlements in occupied Palestinian territory.

The resolution may not have been perfect. But it was still a massive achievement on New Zealand's part to get it passed.

Last week's unseemly kowtowing by Brownlee to Israel has undermined that resolution.

Source: 1 NEWS

He might view the resolution as anti-Israeli. It was actually far more sympathetic than Netanyahu deserved.

It was a plea to the Israelis to halt expansion of settlements while the establishment of a separate Palestinian state was still geographically viable.

The date when that would no longer be the case was not that far away.

Using the creeping expansion of Jewish settlements to deny the Palestinians nationhood might look clever. But Israelis would inevitably pay a big price for it.

They and subsequent generations would be sentenced to conflict forever and a day.

During McCully's watch, there had been clarity and purpose in New Zealand's stance. Under Brownlee, those attributes necessary to buttress any policy have been sacrificed and replaced by confusion.

Mr Brownlee's first task will be dealing with a nuclear North Korea as Bill English rejigs his Cabinet.
Source: 1 NEWS

The genuflecting to Tel Aviv has made a mockery of New Zealand's supposedly independent foreign policy.

The country instead has a foreign minister who appears to see little value in the Security Council as a forum for resolving disputes - and thus little value in seeking a seat on the body.

Rather than acknowledge Brownlee has blundered big time, Bill English suggested his minister's comments were those of someone still "trying to find the right language" in his new role.

Brownlee played along by indicating he was willing to take lessons from his advisors on the finer arts of diplomacy.

Brownlee knew exactly what he was doing, however. Less clear were the reasons why he was doing it.

The speculation has varied between the mundane - Brownlee's desire to stamp his authority on his new portfolio - to the extreme - that Israel's intelligence agency Mossad is well capable of mounting cyber attacks on New Zealand businesses and government infrastructure should New Zealand persist in being an irritant on the international stage.

There are also suggestions that some of the National Party's longstanding funders have slammed their cheque books shut in anger at what McCully had done.

That may be so. But Brownlee's desire to curb the domestic fall-out from the Government's stance on the peace process could yet turn New Zealand into an international laughing stock.

What kind of country moves heaven and earth to secure the passage of a resolution only to then disavow it less than six months later?

Brownlee's thinking aloud has handed the Israelis an invaluable propaganda gift. If a co-sponsor of a Security Council resolution is now questioning its desirability, why should Israel and its allies pay any heed to it?

More fundamentally, Brownlee has created uncertainty about New Zealand's continued adherence to the longstanding "two state solution" which envisages a separate Palestinian nation alongside Israel with both countries having the acknowledged right to exist.

In declaring that the Security Council resolution was "premature ", Brownlee seemed to be taking no cognisance of the decreasing viability of a separate Palestine, thereby making New Zealand's adherence to a two-state solution more fiction than fact.

English has been at pains to stress that is not the case and that National still adheres to long-established policy.

Brownlee's volte face could have much wider connotations, however.

Other countries will be asking themselves whether New Zealand can any longer be expected to stick fast to the positions it takes on a whole gamut of matters in the international spotlight.

It is an issue of trust. When it comes to oiling the wheels of diplomacy, trust is an essential ingredient. Brownlee's advisors might well remind him of that.

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