Brownlee rebuked over Israel comments

Prime Minister Bill English said "every word matters" when it comes to foreign affairs, as Gerry Brownlee has found out to his cost. Photo: Lynn Grieveson

Prime Minister Bill English has slapped down new Foreign Minister Gerry Brownlee for his criticism of a UN resolution co-sponsored by New Zealand, saying “each word matters” in the world of diplomacy.

While English did not directly criticise Brownlee, it was clear he was unhappy with his choice of words when discussing the sensitive issue within 48 hours of taking on the role.

Last December, New Zealand’s decision to co-sponsor a UN resolution condemning Israel’s settlements on Palestinian territories was seen as “an act of war”, with the country’s ambassador recalled from New Zealand.

Brownlee, who wrote to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on his first day in the job to offer an olive branch, told RNZ last week New Zealand should not “pronounce” on how either Israel or Palestine should behave, other than condemning terrorism.

"The value of any resolution is in how much support it gets and the willingness of the parties who are having the resolution imposed upon them to accept what's in it.

"I think it's just premature."

Speaking at his regular post-Cabinet press conference, English said the Government held its stance that the resolution expressed “longstanding government policy”, despite Brownlee’s comments.

“Now the Minister of Foreign Affairs made some comments last week, I think he was just trying to find the right language and that hasn’t changed the Government’s position, which is to do what he’s doing and that is rebuild the relationship with Israel.”

Asked whether Brownlee had failed to find the right words, English said: “Well, he’s getting familiar with the language the Government’s been using around it, and in this world of diplomacy, each word matters...

“I think it’s just reflective of someone brand new on the job, just getting, as I’ve had to, being fairly new into the foreign affairs area, you get to learn the Government’s positions and the language that goes with that.”

English said he had spoken to Brownlee about his work to repair the Israel relationship, and was confident he would not use the phrase “premature” to describe the resolution again.

“We’re not describing our role in it as premature - our role in the resolution was that it expressed government policy, we run independent foreign policy and we want a positive relationship with Israel.”