Brownlee reaches out to Israel over diplomatic ties

Newly appointed Foreign Minister Gerry Brownlee has put restoring relations with Israel at the top of his to-do list. Photo: Lynn Grieveson.

New Foreign Minister Gerry Brownlee has contacted Israel in a bid to ease strained relations between the two countries, in one of his first acts in the role.

Speaking to Newsroom Pro, Brownlee said he had written to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday seeking to restore full diplomatic ties between the two countries.

“I sent him a letter yesterday afternoon, expressing a desire to get the relationship back on track, to recognise that we have had an incident that has caused a problem and proposing that we have a process for getting full diplomatic representation back in place and reasserting that New Zealand has been a long-term friend of Israel,” Brownlee said.

Relations between the two countries deteriorated after New Zealand co-sponsored a UN Security Council resolution last December, condemning Israeli settlements in Palestinian territory as “a flagrant violation under international law”.

Israel recalled its ambassador from New Zealand in protest, with Netanyahu warning former Foreign Minister Murray McCully the move would be seen as a “declaration of war” according to Israeli newspaper Haaretz.

McCully defended the move in an exit interview with Newsroom, saying it had been triggered by “an unusual set of events” but was in line with New Zealand policy.

“I’m aware that there’s some criticism, but I regard that longstanding New Zealand position as one that would be very difficult for us not to vote for.”

Asked whether he had any concerns about how New Zealand’s involvement in the UN resolution was handled, Brownlee replied: “I’m too new to have a view.”

A full interview with Brownlee, covering his priorities as Foreign Minister and his legacy in the Christchurch rebuild, will be on Newsroom Pro later today.