NEW ZEALAND EXPECTED TO PUSH FOR MIDDLE EAST PEACE TALKS
Israel has gotten used to fending off pressure from the United States and the European Union over the conflict with the Palestinians. But now it faces an unlikely country, New Zealand, which is set to join the chorus of those pushing for renewed negotiations and is strongly considering concrete steps to force a solution on Israel. By all reckonings a minor player on the international stage, Wellington has been working on a draft for a United Nations Security Council resolution on the peace process. In January, New Zealand took up a seat on the council for the first time in 21 years, and it intends to make active use of its newly gained influence.
“They have thoughts about the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and might even have a Security Council resolution drawn up,” a Foreign Ministry official familiar with the issue said. A small nation that has no regional interests and not much historical baggage in the Middle East — as opposed to other players such as the US, Russia, Britain or France — Wellington is eager to offer an original contribution to solve the decades-old crisis. “New Zealand thinks it can think outside the box,” the official said. NZ Foreign Minister Murray McCully recently visited the area to assess possibilities to advance the peace process. “The visit was to ensure New Zealand was well-placed to engage on the Middle East peace process,” he declared.
Mr McCully also met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, national security adviser Yossi Cohen, opposition leader Isaac Herzog and Vice Prime Minister Silvan Shalom, who is responsible for peace talks with Palestinians (if and when they resume). Unlike most other foreign dignitaries, McCully did not meet Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely. Rather, he asked for a meeting with Defence Minister Moshe Ya’alon, but since Ya’alon was abroad, McCully met with Amos Gilad, who directs the Defence Ministry’s Political-Military Affairs Bureau. McCully also travelled to the Palestinian Authority and to Cairo for meetings with the Egyptian government and Arab League officials.
In July, New Zealand will take over the presidency of the Security Council, which will further embolden it to seek a larger role on the world stage. Given its remote location, New Zealand is dependent on foreign trade and thus places great emphasis on peace and the upkeep of international law, and, by extension, on the UN and other organs charged with maintaining global stability. With its strong belief in the importance of international mechanisms, the island nation, which has fewer than five million inhabitants, intends to make the most of its two years on the UN’s most important decision-making body. “New Zealand’s term on the Security Council will place us at the heart of international decision-making for the next two years,” McCully said.
New Zealand has been considered a close friend of Israel, especially under the government of Prime Minister John Key, who is Jewish. Yet, it sees the need for the peace process to be advanced, if necessary by forcing a solution on the parties. Israel rejects using multilateral organs such as the UN to coerce it into any sort of action vis-à-vis the Palestinians, arguing that progress can only be achieved in direct negotiations. The government in NZ apparently disagrees. The Foreign Ministry’s website states “We acknowledge that, ultimately, a lasting two-state settlement is something that will have to be negotiated between the two principal parties. But the UN has a role to play in promoting dialogue to encourage that negotiated settlement.”
The statement goes on “New Zealand supports UN resolutions that advance the two-state solution, uphold international law, including human rights and humanitarian law.” However, Wellington is content to let Paris take the lead. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, who is scheduled to visit the region later this month, announced plans for a Security Council resolution that would call for the conclusion of peace talks within 18 months. If at the end of that time no agreement has been reached, France would unilaterally recognize a Palestinian state. The last effort to have the Security Council resolution impose a timeline on the peace process was voted on in the council, in late December, but failed to garner the required nine yes votes.
If the new French draft doesn’t pass, New Zealand is likely to pick up the gauntlet and propose its own resolution, the Israeli Foreign Ministry official assessed. During Foreign Minister McCully’s visit to the region — his fourth since he took office in 2008 — he first and foremost aimed to hear what the sides had to say. “It was a listening tour,” the Israeli official said. “New Zealand currently is still in listening mode. It is not too late for Jerusalem to try to convince Wellington that the UN route doesn’t help but rather hardens the Palestinians’ position and therefore makes peace more difficult to achieve, the official said. But given the country’s determination to make a splash on the international stage, it seems like mission impossible.
Relations between NZ and Israel have been up and down in recent years, including a row in 2004 over claims that two Mossad agents in NZ had been stealing passports, which led to diplomatic sanctions against Israel that were only lifted years later, after then-foreign minister Shalom, the current vice prime minister, apologized “for the involvement of Israeli citizens in such activities.” Last year, Israel was angry about New Zealand sending one man, Jonathan Curr, to serve as ambassador to both Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA) and refused to accredit him. In February, New Zealand caved in and appointed a different diplomat as envoy to the PA, paving the way for Curr to present his credentials to President Reuven Rivlin in late April.
At the event, held at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem, Rivlin told Curr that despite “differences of opinions, as friends, we can agree to disagree.” Conscious of Wellington’s intentions at the UN, the president asked the incoming ambassador to tell his government that peace “will be possible only through direct negotiations and not through unilateral moves on the part of our neighbours the Palestinians.” Curr, who is based in Turkey, spoke of the “very deep relationship between our two peoples,” and the great cooperation between the countries. “We don’t always see things exactly the same way in this region,” he added, “but our approach has always been to listen to our friends and learn and understand their concerns.”
It is a little known fact that New Zealand actually has some success to show in peacemaking: In 1997, it brokered a peace agreement with leaders from Papua New Guinea and Bougainville. Nearly 20 years later, in 2015, Wellington forges ahead into far more remote, and infinitely more complicated waters.
Jews all over the world embrace the custom of blowing the shofar (Ram’s Horn). Numerous times throughout the Bible do we see the Ram’s horn brought into use and each time has a different purpose and symbolism. The symbolism behind the shofar first appears during the binding of Isaac in Genesis 22:13. “Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son.” It is interesting to note that the first time the Hebrew word for ‘love’ appears in the Bible is in relation to a father having to sacrifice his son who he loves (Genesis 22:2). The idea of sacrifice and love, and sacrificing for love, has been intertwined ever since.
The shofar is also used to herald God’s presence, as it states in Exodus 19:16 when the Jewish Nation received the 10 Commandments: “On the morning of the third day there was thunder and lightning, with a thick cloud over the mountain, and a very loud trumpet blast. Everyone in the camp trembled.” Aside from awakening the nation, the shofar is also used to signal the start of the High Holidays for the Jewish nation (Leviticus 23:24, 25:9 and Numbers 29:1). The shofar is used as an instrument of spiritual warfare,(Numbers 10:9): “And when you go to war against the adversary who oppresses you, then you shall sound an alarm with the trumpets, that you may be remembered before the Lord your God, and you shall be saved from your enemies.”
Aside from these purposes the shofar was used to sound alarms for the camp of Israel (Numbers 10:5-6, Ezekiel 33:3), to convene assemblies, announce the new moon and the Jubilee, herald messages and to coronate kings. The shofar was also used in the Temple service (2 Chronicles 15:14, Psalm 47:6, 89:16, 150:5) and when the Ark of the Covenant was returned to the Jewish Temple (1 Samuel 4:5, 2 Samuel 6:15). But what is this instrument of many hats that is seemingly present in almost every Jewish public ceremony? On the High Holidays it is Jewish belief that all of mankind comes before God for judgment and to be inscribed either in the ‘book of life’ or the ‘book of death’.
The shofar is meant at its very core to spiritually awaken those who hear the sound and help them realize that they should be the ones weeping before God either in jubilation or in trepidation. Certainly this is a time for trepidation and introspection, and the shofar is sounded for a month leading up to the awe-filled day. During its sounding we try to incorporate in our thoughts all of the different elements that the shofar represents: love, sacrifice, the glory of God, Kingship, independence, freedom, worship, independence, existential threats, the conquering of enemies, and the thrill of victory together with the threat of defeat.
THE ECONOMIC MIRACLE OF ISRAEL’S NATURAL GAS FIELDS
Thirty years ago I visited an oil rig at Atlit, just south of Haifa. It had been erected by an American Christian company whose CEO, citing a peculiar interpretation of a biblical promise to the Tribe of Asher (Deut. 33:24), was certain he’d find huge quantities of oil beneath the western border of that tribes ancient territory. The company ended up losing millions of dollars. But just 15 years later, Israel discovered vast natural gas fields a mere 50 miles west of Atlit in the depths of the Mediterranean, suggesting that these Christian dreamers weren’t terribly far off the mark by believing God would bless Israel with significant amounts of fossil fuels.
Thirty-five trillion cubic feet of gas worth some US $500 billion has been found in Israel’s “economic waters,” with the Leviathan field being by far the largest. To give some kind of reference point, Israel’s national expenditures for 2013 totalled USD $114 billion. Theoretically experts say, these gas fields can shave 25% off Israel’s annual national budget for the next 25 years. More importantly than covering the national budget is the fact that, for the first time in history, Israel has the opportunity to become energy-independent, as well as a major exporter of natural gas. Reluctant as Jerusalem is to publicly discuss the gas fields, and even as the companies involved shovel off as much of the profits as possible, Israel is already benefiting from the discovery.