You would be forgiven for thinking that New Zealand didn’t do anything major on the international stage just before Christmas if you just followed the mainstream New Zealand media. You would of course be wrong, but forgivably so. What we did was take over, with the help of Malaysia, Senegal, and Venezuela, a resolution from Egypt calling for an immediate halt to settlements in Palestine. New Zealand has actually done something really good by helping to keep this resolution alive, and the US was actually really smart from a peace-seeking perspective in abstaining from using their veto under the justification that there is no legitimate attempt to make peace by Israel, because, well, there isn’t, at least by their government. Obviously the Israeli peace movement still exists, it just hasn’t yet enjoyed the support of the government, ever, and all the government-level peace talks to date have been more about having an excuse to continue oppressing the Palestinians under the shield of the US’ security council veto than about actually moving towards a peaceful solution.
Israel’s reaction, typically, has been to completely spit the dummy and attempt to shun those countries involved.
There has been some reaction to this fact, generally supportive from the left, and contempt of the measure from the right. Before I respond to that reaction, it’s worth quickly noting that there are good people in Israel, and good people in Palestine, but each country is in the grips of powerful movements, respectively driven by paranoia and frustration with the blockade. There are also outright criminals or at least demigogues on both sides, (not necessarily equally in frequency or extremity, but definitely present) most notably those who are involved in settlements, disproportionate military strikes, and eliminationist1 rhetoric on the Israeli side, and those involved in terrorism, promotion of violence, and other violent resistance to occupation on the Palestinian side.
However, this shrill reaction against the UN resolution is coming from zionist voices. To be clear, when I say that, I’m not implying any vast “zionist conspiracy” controlling mainstream media in democratic countries like the certain extreme right-wing anti-semitic bigots believe, I just mean by that word that some Jews believe they have a right to colonise as much of Palestine as they see fit with no consideration for the inhabitants of Palestine or for peace or for law, and they are the ones pushing for diplomatic consequences and dismissing New Zealand as not understanding what is going on. Most people actually supporting Zionism have no objection to the term when used to describe Israeli colonialism in a factual manner.
The defense I linked is a typical establishment, right-wing tactic to belittle serious moves to curtail unacceptable behaviour. Israel has been behaving like a bully, and this resolution calls them on that behaviour and demands they stop. It makes clear that settlements colonising Palestine are illegal, which was already international law, and it actually provides Israel some incentive to come to the negotiating table in good faith, (ie. they will want a negotiation that allows for land trading to bring those settlements into Israeli territory, which means the Palestinians might actually have something to trade other than the moral high ground of “you would be complying with international law”) which previously they have had no need to do.
It’s clear that critics of this sort of measure misunderstand peace in a way that is best elucidated by the late great Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, who said:
True peace is not merely the absence of tension: it is the presence of justice.
That is, in this context, that peace isn’t achieved when Palestine stops making demands of Israel. It is achieved when the fighting stops, trust is built, and criminal actions by both sides are judged fairly under a law that can be accepted by everyone, even if that law can’t offer full restitution. (or even if the most that can be agreed to is a truth and justice process where nobody actually goes to jail, even for actual crimes) So even if I believed the tension could be ended somehow by not passing this resolution, justice demands it be done, as the settlements in Palestine are colonialism and an attempt to eject Palestinians from what is effectively conquered territory, no matter your position on the British Mandate of Palestine under international law. Thus if we are to have any hope for a genuinely peaceful approach to Israel and Palestine in the future, I have to believe that peace is still possible even with international law calling for an immediate halt to all settlements. Because Israel’s security doesn’t depend on its army, or security screening based on profiling, or oppressing its Arabic population to ensure a Jewish majority. Rather, it depends on building trust in the region so that at some point it can start slowly relaxing its military and end conscription, so that it can rely on good relations with its neighbours instead of profiling, and it can rely on real democracy to protect its jewish citizens and their jewish culture, rather than this strange streak of eliminationist zionism we see in certain parts of Israel, where it is apparently okay to have Israeli arabs only so long as they remain forever a minority.
These defenses of zionist Israel are the same line of thinking that protests that Palestine doesn’t recognise Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state. Sure, neither do I, and I doubt anyone who actually believes in secular democracy would, either. There is no right to a religious, cultural, or racial hegemony, and a “Jewish state” is arguably at least one of those things, if not all three. Israel currently exists. Unless a one-state solution is negotiated, Israel will likely continue to exist, although perhaps with less de facto territory and different de jure territory. None of that gives Zionists a right to insist that Israel must be a Jewish country, the same way the KKK doesn’t have a right to insist that the USA must be a Christian nation. They have a right to a free nation where Jewish culture can be preserved. We consider these types of policies human rights abuses when Islamic theocracies push them, so we should be consistent with a Jewish “democracy” like Israel.
Why do we get this? Why do we know what we’re talking about? Because New Zealand is a multicultural nation whose government was born of settlers and colonialism. We oppressed our native population to the brink of extinction, letting disease and war kill them, seizing their land, and even, in Parihaka, killing those who peacefully protested using legal means to protect their rights and property. When that didn’t work, we tried to assimilate Māori into a British New Zealand, punishing children for speaking their own language or talking about their own culture in school, so that they could no longer value it. This, too, almost succeeded, to the point that Māori is arguably a different language today than it used to be because so much of it has had to be reconstructed due to the loss of critical knowledge about old Māori vocabulary. (some of this is being re-integrated, but sadly there are likely to be holes where neologisms and loan words will kill off the original word)
And then we came out the other side. As we became a more open, tolerant, and democratic society, laws were changed. Māori language was protected , revitalised, and then promoted. Parliamentary seats that were once a means of ghettoisation of Māori voters were turned into a vehicle for genuine political representation, and breaches of the law that made settlements illegal were investigated and heard in court, and reconciliation, apologies, and even some degree of reparation was made for those illegal actions by the government in Treaty settlements. We’re not perfect. There are still issues to sort out, still injustice and inequality that is worse for Māori than for Pakeha or even some other ethnic groups. But we have started and it is clear we intend to continue, and even if it’s not enough yet, there is the promise that one day we might actually get it right.
If New Zealand doesn’t know how to start recovering from colonialism, nobody in the world does, and Israel has no hope to ever be secure because it will inevitably be at war with enough of its neighbors to put its existence in peril, either from conventional force or by forcing it to use the nuclear weapons it presumably has but officially denies. If New Zealand doesn’t understand colonialism, then Israel is fighting a rearguard action with a United States that will, eventually, be unable to afford to continue funding their military (which, effectively, it currently does to a large degree, as “foreign aid”) as its status as a superpower continues to wane. Peace is the only viable long-term strategy Israel has, and they have been running from it. Our history in New Zealand teaches us that there is no path to peace without first promoting justice, and that survival is possible (and even, arguably, profitable) for a minority culture if they are willing to participate in a free and democratic society that provides them the cultural acknowledgement and promotion that they deserve. Israel needs to stop putting off its responsibilities and start paying the prices that peace demands2.
1Arguably, eliminationism falls on a spectrum, with figures like Winston Peters on one end, (who just want the “undesirables” to leave of their own accord after a populist nationalist policy is achieved) to figures like Trump in the middle, (wanting to deport demographics he doesn’t like from his country) and genocide at the very extreme end. (The term Eliminationism was used to make a historical-political argument about a degree of German support for genocide, so it’s not exactly a nice word, but I think it’s appropriate to describe how certain extremist Israelis feel about Palestinians.)
2 And yes, some of that price is leaving things to the Palestinian authorities if they want a two-state solution, or accepting the prospect of a Palestinian majority in a one-state solution. These are issues that can be debated and worked around in good faith.