On Coalitions, And Hostage Deals
Reportedly, National has finalised the details of its separate policy programmes with (a) the Act Party and (b) with New Zealand First. Terrific. Yet surprisingly, it has only been in the last 36 hours that Winston Peters and David Seymour have seen the agreements that each of them has reached with Christopher Luxon. What could possibly go wrong?
One might feel equally anxious about the question marks over the spoils of office, and who gets what. Reportedly, the number of Cabinet positions to be shared between the three parties (all of them angling for the maximum of ministerial posts) has yet to be decided. Could there be, might there be, some serious brinkmanship over whether Peters or Seymour gets to become the country’s deputy PM? Ultimately, Luxon is going to have to sell these deals to his own caucus, which may be disappointed to learn how few of them are going to be in the running for ministerial salaries and perks.
When the final documents do emerge it will be fascinating to see how the trio have squared National’s promise of tax cuts with Peters election night observation that, given the state of the economy, some of the election promises were now “confetti.”
Usually, the confetti comes after the wedding. This trio may have finessed their union… But will they have made the confetti by shredding their wedding vows? Time will soon tell. Maybe the new government is planning on having an open marriage – yet if so, will the members of this marriage of convenience share the same idea of what fidelity looks like?
Much has been made of the potential for conflict between Peters and Seymour, but Peters and Finance Minister Nicola Willis will also be a work in progress. For instance: It is hard to equate the heartfelt expression of nationalism contained in the words “New Zealand First” with the proposal to encourage rich foreign buyers to outbid locals for our prime housing stock.
Also: Keep in mind that the annual tax on those purchases is the tooth fairy that National is relying on to help fund its splurge on tax cuts. Peters used to be the Treasurer of this country. How can he happily co-exist with National’s tax cuts, that will inevitably increase consumer spending and thereby boost price inflation, when (a) reducing price inflation was National’s main pitch to voters pre-election, and (b) the tax cuts will cancel out the Reserve Bank’s attempts to dampen down inflation via the repeated raising of interest rates.
Meaning: Thanks entirely to Luxon, voters in the Auckland mortgage belt are going to be paying high interest rates for longer, in order to offset the inflation fuelled by the tax cuts. While doing so, the mortgage belt will be subjected to cuts in jobs and public services, because the revenue has been squandered on the tax cut package, and on huge tax handouts to landlords.
No wonder it is taking a while to square these circles. Seymour in particular is going to have to swallow hard to accept the next incarnation of NZF’s Provincial Growth Fund. (Hi David, my name’s Shane and I’m here to spend up large on regional projects of my own choosing.)
Aside from the last minute jostling between National, Act and New Zealand First, there is no escaping the fact that the new government’s fiscal policy is being steered into a head-on collision with the Reserve Bank’s monetary policy. Maybe someone should tell the guy who used to run an airline that the plane he’s piloting is headed straight into the side of the RB mountain.
Playing politics on Gaza
An exchange between the Hamas hostages and the thousands of Palestinians in Israel’s jails is said to be imminent. In the meantime, it was pretty rich for Gerry Brownlee to lecture Chris Hipkins about the alleged “diplomatic complexity” of the situation in Gaza, given that Brownlee himself seemed quite confused about the identity of the diplomatic players involved.
More than once yesterday morning Brownlee told RNZ’s Corin Dann that the Americans were working with Kuwait on the terms of a ceasefire, when - actually - the Americans are working on this with Qatar. I’m sure that fact was in the MFAT briefing paper.
Memo for Brownlee: The invasion of Kuwait was the initial cause of the First Gulf War in 1990, not this war in Gaza. Qatar has been the main source of the food aid going into Gaza since at least 2021, and before October 7. Arabs may look alike, Gerry, but they’re actually quite different.
Hipkins had made it clear that he was speaking in his role as leader of the Labour Party, and not as the caretaker PM. The core of his statement read like this:
“We are urgently calling for a ceasefire. Israel and Hamas need to immediately ensure the conditions for a ceasefire are met and to commit to a lasting peace in the region.
“All parties need to act in accordance with international law and protect civilians. While we recognise the right to self-defence, we are particularly concerned that the actions of the Israeli Defence Force are disproportionate and indiscriminate.”
“We also urge Hamas to release all hostages immediately and without condition and to be part of the process to work towards peace.”
Clearly then, this wasn’t a call for an immediate ceasefire, but for a ceasefire after “conditions for a ceasefire are met.” What those pre-conditions might be was left unclear. Hipkins said he was “particularly concerned” that the actions of the Israel Defence Force are “disproportionate” and “indiscriminate.” Yet what pre-conditions for a ceasefire must Israel meet? None were mentioned by Hipkins.
Not so for the Palestinians on the receiving end of all that disproportionate and indiscriminate force. They would have to comply with added conditions to avoid further deadly punishment. As Hipkins put it: “We also urge Hamas to release all hostages immediately and without condition.” Did Hipkins mean this unconditional release to be a necessary pre-condition for a ceasefire? Hard to tell. In diplomatic language, “urging” is a less serious term than “calling on” or “requiring,” let alone “demanding.”
Finally, and very interestingly, Hipkins also urged Hamas “to be part of the process to work towards peace.” Here, Hipkins is referring to the political wing of Hamas, which – among other things – governs Gaza and runs its hospitals and other social services. It is separate from the Hamas military wing responsible for the October 7 attacks.
By calling for the Hamas political wing to be part of the peace process after the Israeli offensive has ended, Hipkins seems to want to keep Hamas involved, rather than agreeing with the emerging US/Israel preference that the rival Palestinian Authority should be appointed by Israel to act as Israel’s policing arm in Gaza, and thereby play much the same role that the PA currently serves on the West Bank. (The PA is despised by many Palestinians for its ineffectual compliance.) In future, would Hipkins support the PA being imposed on the people of Gaza?
Instead, maybe Hipkins would support the holding of fresh elections in Gaza, and if so, does he think Hamas should be allowed to take part? If not, what did Hipkins mean when he urged Hamas to be part of the process to work towards peace? How, exactly? Surely, “peace” has to mean more than simply releasing the Hamas hostages.
Quite a different tune from National. According to Gerry Brownlee, National wants to extend the designation of being a terrorist entity to all aspects of Hamas, and not reserve the term solely for the Hamas military wing. “We would want to see the whole of the Hamas structure designated as a terrorist organisation,” Brownlee told RNZ.
Really? This would seem grotesquely unfair. The Palestinian doctors working in Hamas-run hospitals have been valiantly trying to save the lives of the children injured by Israel’s relentless bombardment. National is proposing to reward them by designating them as terrorists.
By doing so, National would also be retrospectively justifying the horrors being inflicted by Israeli bombardment on the schools, hospitals and refugee camps administered by Hamas. These could then be re-classified as being part of a terrorist organisation, and thus, fair game. Even apartheid South Africa made a distinction between the ANC’s political wing and its military wing, and it eventually negotiated peace with the former. That’s a precedent.
Lives of Value
For reasons good and bad, the current burning issue is about the fate of the Hamas hostages. Yet on what moral and/or legal basis should the release of those hostages by Hamas qualify as a necessary pre-condition for a cease-fire? No doubt, securing the immediate release of those hostages would be welcomed by Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu, who is currently taking a lot of heat within Israel from the families of the hostages.
Yet it is hard to see why the release of all the Hamas hostages should be imperative before Israel ceases its “disproportionate” and “indiscriminate“ bombardment on the people of Gaza, not to mention its denial to them of food, water, fuel and other necessities of life.
Yes, the taking of hostages by Hamas is a war crime. But so is the bombing of civilian centres by Israel, and all the other forms of collective punishment that it is inflicting. There is no moral basis for treating one ongoing war crime – the taking of 240 hostages, many of whom are still alive – as a justification for continuing to commit war crimes that have already killed nearly 12,000 Palestinians, 25% of whom were women, and over 40 % of whom were children. The priority being given to the Israeli hostages is explicable only on the premise that Jewish lives are inherently more precious than the lives of Palestinians.
The National Party was invited to join Labour in making its call for a ceasefire-with-conditions. National refused, and then[!] blamed Labour for “playing politics” by asking them to participate, an invitation that allegedly breached the convention of seeking bi-partisanship on foreign policy [! again] It is hard to see any reason (other than its own domestic politicking) as to why National would refuse the offer, given that National and Labour share the same bi-partisan view that the release of the Hamas hostages should be a pre-condition for halting the wider violence.
Brownlee’s dismissed Labour’s call for a ceasefire partly because “just calling for a ceasefire won’t make it happen.” That is utter nonsense. If all diplomatic statements were subject to a prior guarantee that their demands would actually be met, then MFAT would go out of business over-night. Ireland, at least, can see the value of urging all nations to jointly call for a ceasefire.
Finally, National plainly has a double standard on foreign policy. On Ukraine, Luxon was fearlessly forthright about joining in the condemnation of America’s enemy, Russia. Luxon even called for the Russian ambassador to be expelled. On Gaza though, Luxon is refusing to condemn America’s best friend, Israel. The contrast is striking. Here’s Luxon on Ukraine only 18 months ago:
We are seeing some pretty atrocious images, this is a war that's being covered 24/7... We are all seeing what's happening there. I get the point that we need to go through International Criminal Court, no doubt about it, understand that, but let's not sort of hide behind wishy-washy words - let's call it as we see it and that's yep, it looks like war crime."
On Gaza though, National is very happy to hide behind “wishy washy words” like “diplomatic complexity“ rather than call it as we all see it, every night on the television news. If this is an example of what we can expect in future from Luxon on foreign policy, then we may as well eliminate the middleman and take our orders straight from Canberra and Washington.
Footnote: The Hamas attack on October 7 was truly horrendous. Some 364 people died at the Nova music festival alone, almost all of them at the hands of Hamas. Reportedly, the music fans were also victims from friendly fire. As the Jewish newspaper Haaretz reported this week:
According to a police source, the investigation also indicates that an IDF combat helicopter that arrived to the scene and fired at terrorists there apparently also hit some festival participants.
Happy birthday, Bjork
Today is Bjork’s 48th birthday, and here – from September – is her most recent, tectonic plate shifting single: