30 Jun 2015

NZ keen to kickstart Middle East peace process

6:02 am on 30 June 2015

New Zealand is keen to help kickstart the beleaguered Middle East peace process when it takes over the presidency of the United Nations Security Council tomorrow.

Prime Minister, John Key.

Prime Minister, John Key. Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

But no one, including the Prime Minister John Key, expects it to make much difference in its time chairing the council.

The presidency of the Security Council is shared among all its 15 members on a rotating basis every month.

July is New Zealand's turn and the Foreign Minister, Murray McCully, has identified peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority as a priority.

But Labour's foreign affairs spokesperson David Shearer said he was not expecting much.

Labour Foreign Affairs spokesperson David Shearer

Labour Foreign Affairs spokesperson David Shearer Photo: RNZ / Diego Opatowski

"We have to be realistic about this. It's been 48 years since Israel took over the West Bank and really in control of Gaza as well and it's been deadlocked since then... Thinking that somehow in the next month we're going to be able to prise that open and get sides talking is, well I think it's wonderful if it could happen but it's simply not going to," Mr Shearer said.

The Greens' global affairs spokesperson Kennedy Graham is also a pessimist.

"I don't think New Zealand should be discouraged but I don't think we should delude ourselves that we can necessarily orchestrate the whole thing to a fantastic conclusion in the next six months and I think the Israeli Prime Minister [Benjamin Netanyahu] more or less said as much," Mr Graham said.

John Key said New Zealand had long supported the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute.

But Mr Key is realistic about what might be done on the Security Council.

"Yes of course it's hard but does it mean the world should give up. I think the answer to that is no."

New Zealand has succeeded in putting on the council's agenda an open debate on small island developing states.

Mr Key said it delivered on a pledge New Zealand made to small island states when it campaigned to get on the council.

He said it was not clear what might come out of the discussion.

"It's hard to know, you know, exactly how successful we'll be. I mean I think just making the case and having those discussions is important but, you know, obviously any progress we can make is good but I... don't want to oversell that because it's just hard to know what we can achieve in that month."

David Shearer agreed the debate on small states was a good initiative.

"Getting small state items up there will be one of the first times this has really done in a systematic way. I think that will be useful. I think to up the understanding of some of the issues of those states will be important," Mr Shearer said.

New Zealand is also hoping to use the month to promote at least procedural changes to the way the council operates to help increase its transparency.

But Kennedy Graham said he questioned whether the Government was doing enough, particularly to try to change the way the permanent five members - the United States, China, Russia, France and Britain - used their power of veto to stop the council acting.

"I know that New Zealand has had a history of trying to help on either ending or circumscribing the veto. I know for a fact that New Zealand is discussing with France the French initiative for a code of conduct on self-restraint on the veto in cases of mass atrocity crimes. I'm not quite totally convinced we're doing quite as much as we might on that area," Mr Graham said.

Meanwhile, during New Zealand's month as president of the council crises in central Africa, Iraq and Syria are all likely take some of its attention.

Before its two year term ends New Zealand will have a second opportunity to chair the Security Council in September next year.