Crisis resolved: New Zealand to appoint separate envoys to Israel and PA

Israel previously refused to accept an ambassador that would manage ties with both Israel and the PA; now a special envoy will oversee relations with PA, instead of the ambasssador overseeing Israel ties.


The rift surrounding New Zealand’s ambassador to both Israel and the Palestinian Authority that has marred Israel-New Zealand relations in recent months was resolved this week: New Zealand’s foreign minister Murray McCully has decided to split the position of ambassador to Israel and the Palestinian Authority, rather than having a single diplomat overseeing ties with both entities..

It’s been roughly six months since New Zealand has had an ambassador in Israel. New Zealand does not have an embassy in Tel Aviv, and relations with Israel are managed by its ambassador in Ankara – who traditionally served as non-resident ambassador to Israel and the Palestinian Authority traveled to Jerusalem and Ramallah for meetings roughly once a month.

When the new ambassador, Jonathan Curr, was set to submit his appointment letter to Israel’s president, Israel refused to accept the arrangement, as the diplomat was meant to serve as ambassador to the PA as well. Israel-New Zealand relations suffered a serious blow at the time.

Diplomats in both nations remained in contact in recent months regarding the issue, though contacts intensified in January when New Zealand was appointed to a two-year term on the UN Security Council, creating a joint interest to resolve the issue as soon as possible.

New Zealand refused Israeli proposals that a junior diplomat be posted to Ankara that would be responsible for ties with the Palestinians as well. In the end, Wellington found a more creative solution, choosing instead to split up the role of ambassador to Israel and the Palestinians by relieving Jonathan Curr of managing ties with the Palestinians from Ankara. Curr will remain responsible for relations with Israel.

If there’s any winner in this story, it’s the Palestinians, who received a kind of upgrade. New Zealand’s Foreign Minister McCully decided to appoint a special envoy representing himself as well as Prime Minister John Key to the Palestinian Authority. The individual chosen for the job is a particularly senior diplomat, Jim McLay, who has served in the past as deputy prime minister, and most recently as New Zealand’s ambassador to the UN.

This upgrade for the Palestinians is likely to serve them should they make further attempts within the UN Security Council after the Israeli election. In contrast with Australia, which voted against the Palestinian statehood bid a few months ago, New Zealand would likely vote in favor.

McLay will be stationed in Wellington and will travel to the region every few weeks to meet Palestinian leaders in Ramallah, and participate in events pertaining to the peace process and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

A senior official within the Israel’s Foreign Ministry expressed satisfaction with New Zealand’s move, and said that as far as Jerusalem is concerned, the crisis is over. According to the official, at this point there is no set date for New Zealand’s ambassador to submit his appointment letter to Israeli President Reuven Rivlin. “We’ve put the issue behind us and are returning to normal relations with New Zealand,” said the official.