Morning Report, Radio New Zealand, 14/6/17. Transcript:
Susie Ferguson: New Zealand and Israel have agreed to restore ties, ending a 6-month crisis between the two countries. Israel recalled their ambassador in December after New Zealand co-signed a UN Security Council resolution condemning Israel's continued settlements. Well, last half-hour on Morning Report we spoke to Gil Hoffman from the Jerusalem Post, and he said that PM Bill English wrote a letter saying he regretted the damage done to Israel-New Zealand relations as a result of New Zealand proposing resolution 2334 at the [UN] Security Council. With us now is the foreign minister, Gerry Brownlee.
Ferguson: Are you able to confirm that that was indeed what the letter said?
Brownlee: What the letter indicated was that New Zealand wanted to resume diplomatic relations with Israel and regretted there'd been fallout from the co-sponsorship of the resolution.
Ferguson: So an apology was required to the Israelis?
Brownlee: I think it was a clarification of the fact that we remain good friends of Israel, have been for a very long time, and we respect the fact that they are a democratically-elected government which is not all that usual in the Middle East.
Ferguson: An apology regretting the damage done to the relations between the two countries. Does New Zealand regret the resolution itself?
Brownlee: Well, the resolution is one that's been passed by the UN and that exists. What's important is that the relationship between New Zealand and Israel is on a good footing and so we are able to discuss as friendly nations issues that affect both of us.
Ferguson: That's not exactly what I was asking though, minister. As for this resolution, is that something New Zealand and the New Zealand government regrets?
Brownlee: As I said, and all I'm going to say, is that we regret the fallout that came from that. I think the important thing is that the re-establishment of those diplomatic relations and the discussions we can now have as nations that remain after many, many years of friendship.
Ferguson: Is that a way of saying you do still back the resolution's intent but you still want to be friends with Israel?
Brownlee: It's a way of saying exactly what I've said so far.
Ferguson: So, as for all the work that was done on this by [former NZ foreign minister] Murray McCully, is this essentially all being thrown under the bus?
Brownlee: Look, what is important, and I'm going to keep on saying this no matter how many times you ask me, and different ways you ask it, is that the relationship between two countries that have been friends for a very long time is back on the right foot and that enables a level of discussion you can't have if you're at loggerheads.
Ferguson: Is this a pandering to Israel from New Zealand?
Ferguson: How not?
Brownlee: It's a mark of respect for a country that's a unique democracy in the Middle East.
Ferguson: So was carrying that resolution and taking that forward disrespectful then?
Brownlee: Well, I just told you it didn't matter how many ways you asked me the question I wouldn't be deviating from my response.
Ferguson: But it is an interview, Mr Brownlee, which is where I get to ask questions and, hopefully, you get to answer them.
Brownlee: Where you get to ask questions and I give you the answers that I'm able to give you, and that's what I've been doing despite the fact that what you would desire as an answer from different questions.
Ferguson: So was New Zealand then used as a pawn by the US under President Obama in this territory?
Brownlee: That's a very interesting question. I don't know where you got the idea that New Zealand has allowed itself to be used as a pawn by anyone.
Ferguson: Well, essentially it came up in the interview with Gil Hoffman from the Jerusalem Post on Morning Report. That's why I thought it was something worth putting to you. So is that the case?
Brownlee (inaudible): The problem... Morning Report...
Ferguson: So [US Secretary of State] Rex Tillerson was here recently. Was this something that was discussed during his visit to Wellington?
Ferguson: So there was no request from the US for New Zealand to make this apology?
Brownlee: No, we had a very good discussion with Tillerson. I think we were able to confirm that we're on the same page of a whole range of issues and we were also able to put our disappointment with the US position on climate change and the TPP but that is a perfect example of how two countries that are very close friends... can have differences without getting too fraught about it.
Ferguson: Just to clarify: what is New Zealand's view of the settlements that Israel has made on Palestinian land? Do you view them as illegal?
Brownlee: What we've said is that the settlement issue is one that the parties that are in dispute need to sort out among themselves, and we'll do what we can to assist in that process. In the end it's something for them to determine.