New Zealand needs to vote for Palestine

New Zealand has a chance this September at the United Nations to support the Palestinian quest for the same basic human rights and the self-determination that Kiwis take for granted. Will it have the guts to do so?

It is time for New Zealand to declare its support for an independent State of Palestine.

Like all countries of the world, except for obvious reasons Israel, New Zealand is being asked by the Palestinians to support Palestine’s bid for entry into the international community at the upcoming United Nations General Assembly in September.

At this stage New Zealand seems to be one of a minority of nations that is willing to deny Palestinians the same basic human rights and the right to self determination that Kiwis enjoy.


Surely the long and painful experience Maori have endured to have their human, legal, moral and self-determination rights recognised is in integral part of the way New Zealand now operates. New Zealanders know that to live in peace people must have their grievances dealt with in a fair, just and enduring manner.

Only the free can negotiate.

Maori compromised enormously in foregoing most of what was stolen from them by those who colonised New Zealand, and as colonization began to be recognised for the ugly practice it was, New Zealand governments tried – and yes, often fell short – to rectify the damage caused to the occupied.

It is an ongoing practice, but it has come a long way in a relatively short time.

Soon the international community is being asked to recognise the same rights for the Palestinians, living under occupation and having failed for twenty years to negotiate their freedom and sovereignty over less than one quarter of their historic homeland.

New Zealand’s policy is one of not expressing explicit recognition of new states, although an Oxford University Legal research paper by Stefan Talmon notes that recognition language for existing and new states has occasionally crept into New Zealand government statements.

On the whole however New Zealand recognises by actions, not formal declarations. Those actions include prime ministers and foreign ministers attending new states’ independence celebrations, accepting the validity of passports such as Kosovo’s after its independence in 2008, accrediting diplomatic representatives and the like.

Essentially, in the words of Helen Clark in 2008, New Zealand neither recognises nor not recognises. It is a matter of implication through action.

A 2007 Ministry of Foreign Affairs statement on New Zealand’s position with regard to Palestine said that recognition would be considered when the Palestinian leadership has formally declared statehood.

That the Palestinian leadership did exactly that in 1988 seems to have escaped MFAT’s notice, or at the most, any serious public consideration.

New Zealand plays by the international convention in considering a state to be one that has a permanent population, a defined territory, a government and the capacity to enter into relations with other states.

Palestine has a permanent population, has a government, and already enters into relations with other states. As for a defined territory – that is proving a problem but not of the Palestinians’ making. For twenty years the territory that is to consist Palestine has been one of the six so-called final status issues at the heart of now moribund peace-talks.

As US President Obama noted recently the borders are to be those of the 1967 war with agreed land swaps. That has been the basis of negotiation since the Oslo Accords – until Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu unilaterally moved the goal posts.

But now New Zealand, like the other countries of the United Nations faces an upcoming political decision to acknowledge the long march of the Palestinians towards their rights of self determination and independence. At this stage the Palestinians can count on 120 of the 193 UN member nations, and seem confident of increasing that to 130 or 140 by September.

Supporting Palestine is not an issue of “delegitimizing” Israel as Israel claims. How can giving a people who are occupied their independence delegitimize anyone? Arguing against a people’s self determination seems more like self-delegitimization.

The Palestinians reject any notion that their bid for statehood is unilateral and therefore should not be acknowledged. If anything their actions are extremely multilateral, given the major diplomatic process of consultation that forms the scaffolding of the bid in September.

They argue Israel’s 1948 declaration of independence was unilateral and done without consultation. In 1776 the United States declared independence without consulting Britain.

Unilateral action for the Palestinians circa 2011, is the persistent building of illegal settlements in occupied territories, against international law and in breach of a string of UN resolutions.

Palestinians are ready and willing to negotiate if the object of negotiations is overt – 1967 recognised borders with Israel, security, an end to settlement building, a just solution to the refugee issue, water rights and Jerusalem as the capital of both Israel (West Jerusalem) and Palestine (East Jerusalem).

But the journey to the UN will not be called off if negotiations resume, any more than would the third prong of the strategy – the continuation of state building which has been recognised by the World Bank and the IMF as credible for a middle-income state.

New Zealanders like their international reputation for playing fair and not tolerating oppression at home or abroad. They are proud of the role New Zealand played in the unravelling of apartheid in South Africa. Now they have another opportunity to stand up for everything the United Nations is supposed to represent in considering all people deserving of the same rights that Kiwis, and for that matter Israelis, enjoy.

While New Zealand may stick with not formally recognising a new state, it will have to act when there is a vote in the September UNGA. It should vote with the Palestinians. There is the opportunity to abstain which given this is a basic human rights issue would be lily-livered to say the least. To vote against would be despicable.