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On Winston Peters’ Pathetic Speech At The UN

Good grief, Winston Peters. Tens of thousands of Gazans have been slaughtered, two million are on the brink of starvation and what does our Foreign Minister choose to talk about at the UN? The 75 year old issue of whether the five permanent members should continue to have veto powers over Security Council decisions.

Predictably, the NZ media has swooned at the prospect of New Zealand being invited to join the discussions on Security Council reform, whenever they happen, and whatever they involve. Typically, Peters has declined to say what he thinks significant UN reform should entail.

In February, Ireland had already said everything about the UN that Peters said this week, but had gone much further. Ireland called for scrapping the Security Council veto altogether, and pointedly pledged $21.6 million to the relief agency UNRWA, at a time when most Western nations were cutting off, or suspending ,their funding. So far, the West has found it far easier to cut off the aid lifeline on which the Palestinians depend, than to cut off the supply of weapons that the IDF is using to kill them.

These days, Winston Peters can be relied on to echo Washington’s message lines with dogged fidelity. In his State of the Union speech last month for example, US President Joe Biden claimed that “ the only real solution is the two state solution.” This week, Peters faithfully echoed that sentiment by repeating“ The two state solution ....remains the only blueprint for peace that we have.” For months, the US had used its veto to obstruct Security Council resolutions calling for an “immediate ceasefire” in Gaza, and the NZ government has politely refrained from criticising the US for doing so. And refrained from denouncing Israel’s blood-soaked violations of international law.

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The miracle of our independent foreign policy these days is that it freely always finds itself in step with the US/UK consensus. Here are some of the gaps between what Peters told the UN, and reality.

Peters: “New Zealand welcomed Resolution 2728, which demanded an immediate ceasefire for the month of Ramadan, leading to a lasting sustainable ceasefire. We call on all parties to this conflict to comply with Resolution 2728 without delay.” Like Biden, Peters urged

Israel not to conduct a military offensive in Rafah, the last Palestinian place of refuge.

Reality: Israel ignored Resolution 2728, and says it is putting the final touches to its military offensive against Rafah, the last Palestinian refuge.

Peters: “Building and expanding illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied territories and the forcible displacement of Palestinians from Gaza imperil the two-state solution, which remains the only blueprint for peace that we have.

Reality: for the past 30 years, Israel has been building illegal settlements on the land ear-marked by the Oslo Peace Accords for a Palestinian state. Since the start of 2023, the Israeli government has overseen a sharp escalation of settler violence on the West Bank that is forcibly displacing more and more Palestinians from their land.

Meanwhile, Israel is still penning Palestinian families behind 9 metre high concrete walls, in an ever-shrinking, disconnected series of Bantustans. For good measure in January, Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu had rejected the “two state solution” proposal.

Regardless, the Peters’ platitudes kept on coming :

Peters : “Palestinians should not have to pay the price of defeating Hamas.”

Reality: At least 33,000 Palestinians including some 13,000 children have already paid the ultimate price for “defeating” Hamas. This is not counting those buried under the rubble of their homes. Two million Palestinians have been displaced, and – after being denied water, food, and adequate medical care - hundreds of thousands of them are on the brink of death by starvation. An estimated 122,000 Palestinian homes in Gaza have been totally destroyed. Almost all of Gaza’s physical infrastructure – water, energy, roading, housing, hospitals, schools, mosques etc - have been destroyed. And yet the West’s political figureheads continue to wag fingers at Israel and urge it to show more restraint.

Peters has been well-rewarded for the mouldy old puffballs he tossed into the General Assembly. The NZ Herald called his speech” hard hitting” and RNZ called his speech both “harsh” and “scathing.” Academics applauded the speech as timely - as if what starving Palestinians really need right now is a UN committee to begin

debating what the ideal balance of power in the UN Security Council might look like. Meanwhile, other countries – South Africa, Ireland, Spain and so help us, Nicaragua – continue to show moral leadership on the Gaza situation, in both word and deed.

What Peters Could Have Said.

For a thought experiment, lets consider what a genuinely hard hitting speech by Peters might have contained.

Instead of blaming the UN in general for failing to bring peace to the Middle East, Peters could have/should have criticised the United States in particular for its use of its veto power. The US has repeatedly used its veto to insulate Israel, and to frustrate repeated attempts by the Security Council to condemn Israel’s disproportionate and indiscriminate response, to call for an immediate ceasefire, and to mitigate the suffering.

Finally in late March, Resolution 2728 (calling for an immediate Gaza ceasefire )was passed, but only because the US abstained. White House spokesmen then immediately undercut the UN measure by stating that Resolution 2728 was “non-binding” on Israel. In any case, Israel ignored Resolution 2728. Nary a peep from Peters about this sorry saga.

Weapons sales

Peters could also /should also have called on both the UK and the US – for starters - to stop selling the weapons to Israel that make the carnage in Gaza possible. But he didn’t. Such a call would have been timely. Only days beforehand, the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva had passed a resolution calling on countries to impose a ban on arms sales to Israel. Yet although Peters was speaking a few days later, he chose not to mention the HRC ban, let alone commend it. Did New Zealand support the HRC resolution, or not?

On the very same issue, Nicaragua has just presented its case to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) that Germany’s arms sales to Israel are facilitating Israel’s genocidal actions in Gaza. You’d think the word “genocide” might ring a few alarm bells in Germany, but evidently not. Germany is Israel’s second-largest arms provider after Washington, and sent $353.7 million in military equipment to Israel in 2023. Germany has defended its position.

Moving right along...Peters could also have used his UN pulpit to

announce that New Zealand would be formally joining South Africa’s legal claim of genocide against Israel at the ICJ. Ireland has already done so. What weight - if any- is New Zealand giving to the ICJ’s preliminary finding that there is a “plausible case” to answer that some of Israel’s actions in Gaza may violate the Genocide Convention? Hard to tell, because there was no mention of the ICJ case in the allegedly “hard hitting” speech Peters gave at the UN.

Two State Solution = Tooth Fairy Solution

Both Winston Peters and Christopher Luxon repeatedly state their support for the “ two state solution” - as if, in 2024, this call still has any substance, or any merit. As the Palestinian writer and political analyst Tareq Baconi recently wrote in the New York Times:

The language that surrounds a two-state solution has lost all meaning. Over the years, I’ve encountered many Western diplomats who privately roll their eyes at the prospect of two states — given Israel’s staunch opposition to it, the lack of interest in the West in exerting enough pressure on Israel to change its behaviour and Palestinian political ossification — even as their politicians repeat the phrase ad nauseam. Yet in the shadow of what the International Court of Justice has said could plausibly be genocide, everyone has returned to the chorus line, stressing that the gravity of the situation means that this time will be different. It will not be.

The two state solution has been a dead duck for at least 25 years. To continue to call for it is rank bad faith. The two state solution vanished under the remorseless settler expansion, encouraged by successive Israeli governments. By choosing to keep on peddling this fantasy, Western leaders legitimise the violent occupation by making it seem transient, a mere period of turbulence before justice (somehow) prevails, and an era of peaceful co-existence (somehow)emerges from future negotiations conducted in a climate of mutual compromise. Dream on.

Before October 7, as Baconi says, Palestinian grievances (and the deaths of Palestinian children which through 2022 and into mid 2023 were running at record levels) were absolutely invisible on the world stage. It was only after Jewish people were killed on October 7 that the Gaza situation commanded media and political attention.

Since then, the international community has reverted to its deeply familiar call for a two state solution, under which Palestinians and Israelis co-exist in security and mutual prosperity, side by side. Baconi again:

Repeating the two-state solution mantra has allowed policymakers to avoid confronting the reality that partition is unattainable in the case of Israel and Palestine, and illegitimate as an arrangement originally imposed on Palestinians without their consent in 1947. And fundamentally, the concept of the two-state solution has evolved to become a central pillar of sustaining Palestinian subjugation and Israeli impunity. The idea of two states as a pathway to justice has in and of itself normalized the daily violence meted out against Palestinians by Israel’s regime of apartheid.

If only Peters had chosen to address that reality...He didn’t, of course. Exactly 30 years ago the Rwanda genocide broke out - a catastrophe in which New Zealand played a positive role in spurring the UN and the wider international community into action. Evidently though, we’re a different country now.

Footnote One: Logically, any significant UN reform would require the US, Russia, China, France and Britain to all agree to weaken or surrender the veto power that each of them has in the Security Council. If Peters has any clues about how to convince those countries to do so, he should put those ideas on the table. The world would be all ears.

Instead, Peters has called for UN reform without offering any inkling of what he thinks that should entail. But lets take him at face value. Does he want the UN General Assembly to be able to over-ride the veto power held by any and all of the five permanent members of the Security Council? Even if possible, that would be likely to trigger a rash of vote-buying within the General Assembly that would make he vote buying we’ve seen in the International Whaling Commission look like a picnic.

Does he really think the US – which bankrolls so much of the UN activities - will voluntarily give away, or weaken its veto? A newly elected President Donald Trump is likely to say that only the US has

bought itself the right to have a veto. Also: does Peters still think that a relatively minor power like Britain should be allowed to keep its SC veto power? Arguably, India, Germany, Japan, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Brazil, the UAE, South Africa and Indonesia all have as great a claim (or better) than Britain to permanent Security Council membership. Why should Britain still enjoy a Security Council veto ?

Does Peters think Britain still should, and if so, why? Since Peters says he wants to open the box of UN reform, he needs to be telling us what he thinks should be inside it.

Footnote Two : As mentioned above, the International Court of Justice has found (with respect to the South Africa allegations) that there is a “plausible case” to answer that some of Israel’s actions in Gaza may have been in violation of the Genocide Convention. A final verdict is still years away. No doubt, Israel will continue to ignore any ICJ findings critical of its actions. The moral weight of the process though, is significant.

Footnote Three: Interesting comments have been made in the course of Nicaragua’s ICJ case against Germany. “There can be no question that Germany … was well aware, and is well aware, of at least the serious risk of genocide being committed” in Gaza, according to Carlos José Argüello Gómez, Nicaragua’s representative at the ICJ.

Moreover: “It is indeed a pathetic excuse to the Palestinian children, women, and men in Gaza to provide humanitarian aid, including through air drops on the one hand, and to furnish the weapons and military equipment that are used to kill and annihilate them,” Nicaraguan lawyer Daniel Müller told the ICJ. Because Nicaragua has lodged its ICJ case under emergency provisions, the court’s initial ruling may be only a week or two away.

Footnote Four : South Africa also petitioned the ICJ to address Gaza’s ongoing hunger crisis; the court ordered Israel to permit the delivery of basic food and water supplies “without delay.” In February, the ICJ accepted a long-planned case by the United Nations General Assembly to discuss the legality of Israel’s occupation of

Gaza and the West Bank. International law is moving against Israel’s actions.

New Zealand has virtually ignored all of these ICJ proceedings. Oh, we talk about our support for the international rule of law, and about how important this system is to a small country like ours. But we no longer back up this rhetoric with meaningful action. Right now, other small countries ( Ireland, Spain, and South Africa in particular) are actually walking the talk, while we sit nervously on the side-lines waiting to see which way the diplomatic wind is blowing.

Footnote Five: Interesting that British Foreign Minister David Cameron met this week with Donald Trump, and that Peters – as a lesser figure - is meeting with a Trump official in Washington. Having opened the door to New Zealand engagement with candidate Trump, Peters needs to be asked – what impact does he think that a re-elected President Trump would have on the AUKUS pact, and on America’s level of engagement with the Pacific?

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