A “fiercely held” independent foreign policy?

Addressing the NATO military alliance summit on 30 June, the New Zealand Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, informed leaders: “Aotearoa New Zealand has a fiercely held independent foreign policy.” What she called “our foreign policy interventions” were based, she said, on “the simple concept that, when our shared humanity is undermined, we all suffer.” Ardern described the war in Ukraine as “an affront to our multilateral institutions” and, stressing the need to “speak out against human rights abuses at all times”, expressed her concern for “the mounting pressure on the international rules-based order”.

Following such clear pronouncements, it is reasonable to request our Prime Minister to explain more clearly her policy towards Israel’s land-grabbing oppression of the Palestinian people. In her speech before the NATO military alliance, Jacinda Ardern referred to New Zealand’s “significant contributions to the international legal effort to hold Russia accountable” so it is fair to ask her what significant contributions the present Government has made, or at least intends to make, in order to hold Israel to account for its imposition of the longest military occupation in modern history.

UN Human Rights Council

Established last May, by the UN Human Rights Council, the first report from the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and Israel condemns the military occupation as well as Israel’s discriminatory treatment of the people it has invadedNoted in the report is: “Israel’s failure to uphold the laws and customs of war, including those of belligerent occupation, violations and abuses of individual and collective rights, and a lack of accountability.” These crimes certainly count as among what Jacinda called “the mounting pressure on the international rules-based order.” There is much talk of negotiations as the way to resolve the injustices but, as the UN report notes, Israel “has established clear policies to ensure complete permanent control over the Occupied Palestinian Territory. This includes altering the demography of these territories through the maintenance of a repressive environment for Palestinians and a favourable environment for Israeli settlers.” It would be more honest to admit that Israel must be brought to account before there can be any hope for peace and justice in Palestine. Zionism is, as the report finds, “altering the demography of these territories through the maintenance of a repressive environment for Palestinians and a favourable environment for Israeli settlers.”

Asymmetrical invasion and resulting control

Israel’s policies and actions build Palestinian frustration and lead to a sense of despair. They fuel the cycle of violence and the protraction of conflict”, as the Commission’s Chair, Navanethem Pillay explained. Israel and its allies gladly use reports of Palestinian missile-firings and acts of armed resistance to make Israels invasion and Occupation appear more like defence than aggression. Armed struggle against colonial occupation is recognised under international law and specifically endorsed through the adoption of Additional Protocol I to the Geneva Conventions of 1949, as a protected and essential right of all people living under occupation.

Over time, this right has been defined more and more clearly and, in 1982, UNGA resolution 37/43 removed any doubt as to the lawful entitlement of occupied people to resist occupation forces by any and all lawful means as “the legitimacy of the struggle of peoples for independence, territorial integrity, national unity and liberation from colonial and foreign domination and foreign occupation by all available means, including armed struggle”.

Our traditional allies

The UN Human Rights Commission report notes that Israel has no intention of ending the occupationand is indeed aiming for “complete control” over the Occupied Palestinian Territory. In the UK Parliament’s House of Lords, the Tory Member, Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, in answer to a question regarding this, and unable to contest the facts, weakly responded:We firmly believe a just and lasting resolution that ends the occupation and delivers peace for both Israelis and Palestinians is long overdue.” Ignoring the asymmetry and purpose behind the conflict, he then promised: “We will continue to press Israel and the Palestinians strongly on the need to refrain from taking actions, which make peace more difficult.”

The US Government response to the UN report defied reason, logic and undeniable evidence, saying: “we firmly oppose the open-ended and vaguely defined nature of the UN Human Rights Council’s (HRC) Commission of Inquiry (COI) on the situation in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza, which represents a one-sided, biased approach that does nothing to advance the prospects for peace.  The report of the Commission, released today, does nothing to alleviate our concerns.” It is the failure to recognise undeniable aggression that is “one-sided” and biased” – it would seem that, for Israel’s allies, “promoting respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms globally” means everywhere but in Palestine.

On 24 June, our Ministry of Trade and Foreign Affairs (MFAT) announced that New Zealand’s application to become an Observer of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) had been accepted. As Sh’ma Koleinu – Alternative Jewish Voices (NZ) tells us, the IHRA’s controversial working definition of anti-Semitism “renders criticism of Israel as Jew-hatred.” Last month, the IHRA membership, at its annual plenary gathering in Stockholm unanimously elected Israel to lead the group in 2025. It would surely better fit New Zealand’s “fiercely held independent foreign policy” for us to detach from, and indeed oppose such views, which do nothing but grant immunity for Israel.

United Nations

A UN report to the Human Rights Council in March noted that: “There is today in the Palestinian territory occupied by Israel since 1967 a deeply discriminatory dual legal and political system, that privileges the 700,000 Israeli Jewish settlers living in the 300 illegal Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.” The UN urged the international community to adopt a robust menu of accountability measures to swiftly end the occupation and enable Palestinian self-determination.

As Ardern herself tells us, “we must stand firm on the rules-based order, call for diplomatic engagement and speak out against human rights abuses at all times when and where we see them.” So what are we waiting for? In the UK on 2 July, Jacinda addressed a meeting at Chatham House, also known as the Royal Institute of International Affairs, telling this audience also that “we are fiercely independent” and with regard to the war in Ukraine that New Zealand had “moved swiftly to enact a targeted regime of sanctions in condemnation of the war.”

It is high time for New Zealand to demonstrate our fiercely-held independent foreign policy by moving swiftly to “enact a targeted regime of sanctions in condemnation of the war” in Occupied Palestine. Set an example to world leaders, especially our so-called allies!

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