Peters tilts towards Israel
By Richard Harman (author)
Winston Peters has forced an acknowledgement into the Coalition Agreement of the lack of process leading up to New Zealand’s vote last December on the controversial UN Security Council resolution opposing Israel’s occupation of some former Palestinian territories.
This appears to be part of an overall traditional and conservative approach the new Foreign Minister is taking to our international relations.
How this will sit with some in Labour and in the Greens remains to be seen, but he was already under attack last night on the left wing "Daily Blog" which asked whether he would be the Israel Lobby's "Trojan Horse?".
Within the Greens, the possible next co-Leader, Marama Davidson, joined a pro Palestinian protest flotilla last year.
The Labour- NZ First coalition agreement says that the new Government “will Record a Cabinet minute regarding the lack of process followed before the National-led government’s sponsorship of UNSC2334.”
(UNSC2334 was the controversial resolution which New Zealand co-sponsored.)
Peter was yesterday named as Foreign Minister in the coalition Government, and the Israel statement in the Coalition Agreement suggests that his long-standing tendency to support Israel is now a factor in New Zealand's foreign policy.
His argument that correct process was not followed has been pushed within the National Party by critics of the resolution such as National's Attorney General, Chris Finlayson and Energy Minister, Judith Collines.
In a sense, the argument about the process has become a proxy for opposing the resolution altogether.
Hence, Labour’s concession to Peters amounts to an indirect acknowledgement that the resolution was wrong.
The New Zealand Israel Institute, a pro-Israel lobby group, is no doubt about the argument nor where Peters stands.
Its website says the two politicians shown by the Institute’s survey to have held favourable views on Israel had done well.
It names the MPs as David Seymour and Winston Peters.
“In fact, Peters, the only M.P. to have pursued the issue of New Zealand’s sponsoring of UN Resolution 2334 in parliament, is now in the position of ‘king maker’” it says.
"From many conversations on social media and elsewhere, it is evident that some Israel supporters who were a long time National supporters, changed parties and voted for Winston Peters."
Speaking to POLITIK last night, Peters was emphatic that the Security Council resolution should have been approved by Cabinet before new Zealand voted.
"Then Brownlee tried to correct it when he got the job (Foreign Minister), but he's been stamped on."
Asked if he had been Foreign Minister at the time, would he have supported the resolution, Peters said it was not for the Foreign Minister to decide.
“It was for the Cabinet to decide.”
Peters position on Israel is part of a what appears to be a generally traditional and conservative view he will bring to New Zealand’s foreign policy.
“My priorities are to improve our relationship with Australia which I believe could be better,” he said.
“I want to ensure that we are seriously doing the best we can for the money we are spending on foreign affairs.
“Then to build on the hard work we’ve put in in recent years to refocus our emphasis into the Pacific and to ensure that we are the best Pacific neighbour we can be."
Peters said we should tread with “serious caution" to maintain our reputation as a country, but he was enigmatic on how he would balance the relationship with the USA and China.
“You say we have walked a middle path,” he said.
“But we have not got a better trading relationship with the United States.
“We seem to have not made the kind of progress we could have expected to have made.
“That might change now.”
Peters has been consistently critical of New Zealand's economic relationship with China.
"I've said it before; we've placed far too many of our economic eggs in one basket; in one company, in one product, in one market."
Peters says he wants to build the relationship with the United States rather than reduce the relationship with China --- but even so, his long-standing, suspicion of China suggests that his approach to foreign policy will be different to that of National.
He is also pro-Britain, and yesterday received a call from British Foreign Minister, Boris Johnson.
Peters has previously supported Brexit and proposed that New Zealand should initiate a post-Brexit Commonwealth Free Trade agreement centred in Britain.
All of this adds up to a conservative approach to foreign policy which may irritate some on the left of Labour as well as the Greens.
But not only does NZ First hold the Foreign Ministry but also also has an Under Secretary (Fletcher Tabuteau) and holds the Defence Ministry (Ron Mark) which altogether suggests that this new Government’s foreign policy is unlikely to be radical..