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Wellington’s Quixotic Mideast Peace Plan

New Zealand mounts a push for a U.N. Security Council resolution on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that neither side particularly wants.

The United Nations Security Council meets on Ukraine May 2, 2014 at UN headquarters in New York. Russia warned Ukraine of "catastrophic consequences" unless it halted a military operation against pro-Russian gunmen while Western powers rounded on Moscow at emergency UN talks.   AFP PHOTO/Stan HONDA        (Photo credit should read STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Images)
The United Nations Security Council meets on Ukraine May 2, 2014 at UN headquarters in New York. Russia warned Ukraine of "catastrophic consequences" unless it halted a military operation against pro-Russian gunmen while Western powers rounded on Moscow at emergency UN talks. AFP PHOTO/Stan HONDA (Photo credit should read STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Images)

Little New Zealand — the southwestern Pacific island nation best known to outsiders for producing the breathtaking film locations for Peter Jackson’s Hobbit trilogy — has never been a Mideast power broker.

And yet Wellington has taken it upon itself to try to recharge the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process, offering up a U.N. draft resolution aimed at compelling both sides to end the violence, publicly urging their people to exercise restraint, and nudging the rivals back to the negotiating table.

So far, the bid has received a cool reception from the Palestinians, who want the council to go much further and send a protection force into Palestinian lands. The Israelis, who oppose any U.N. Security Council role in the peace process, denounced it as “destructive.” So far, the United States, which has periodically flirted with the idea of some sort of unspecified action in the U.N. Security Council, has been largely silent on the matter.

“We feel the council needs to get engaged again with the Middle East, and we have been waiting for others to step forward,” New Zealand’s U.N. ambassador, Gerard van Bohemen, told Foreign Policy, noting that the Security Council last adopted a resolution on the Middle East crisis more than six years ago. “In the absence of anyone else doing something, we thought we must at least try.”

There is a “presumption” that the big powers hold a monopoly on Middle East diplomacy, but “we have never accepted that this is necessarily our lot in life,” van Bohemen said.

But Israel’s U.N. ambassador, Danny Danon, called the initiative “destructive, instead of constructive.”

“The only way to achieve peace is through direct talks between the parties,” he said in remarks that were emailed to FP by the Israeli mission to the United Nations.

It remains unclear whether the resolution will ever see the light of day.

One senior council diplomat said it stands a fair chance of ultimately being adopted. The downside, the diplomat said, is a final version would likely be so thin and watered down that it will add little to the discussion.

“I know the Israelis and Palestinians have objected to it, but I don’t think that’s a reason not to pursue it,” the diplomat said. “Broadly speaking, it says the sort of things which we say pretty regularly in press statements.… I would be very surprised if council members decided they couldn’t accept this.”

But the Kiwi approach has generated criticism even from some of New Zealand’s allies. Supporters of the International Criminal Court have raised concerns about a provision urging the Palestinians not to ask The Hague-based court to pursue war crimes investigations on Palestinian lands. That provision was crafted to elicit support from Israel. It accompanies Palestinian-friendly language calling on Israel to refrain from building new settlements.

“We sympathize with the intent of a non-permanent member challenging the monopoly of the permanent members of the council on this issue,” said Philippe Bolopion, of Human Rights Watch. “But we think it’s very ill-advised to use the ICC as a bargaining chip in the negotiations. Justice is not something you can trade.”

New Zealand’s initiative reflects a wider concern among foreign governments that the collapse of U.S.-brokered political talks in Israel requires a fresh approach to resolving the crisis — and one that is not limited to the United States. New Zealand’s position is that it would be happy to let someone else take the lead. New Zealand hopes its resolution will force the council to confront the issue with a view of taking up a more detailed resolution in the future on the parameters for a final peace deal.

For more than a year, France has been pressing the United States to back a U.N. Security Council resolution that outlines specific parameters — including a commitment to 1967 borders with “mutually agreed, limited” land swaps — culminating with a comprehensive peace agreement within two years.

Paris, which has faced resistance from Washington, has not been willing to pull the trigger.

But van Bohemen said New Zealand has been taking some friendly fire from traditional allies, who have criticized its stance on the International Criminal Court. The critics’ beef, he argued, is with a provision in the ICC treaty, Article 16, which expressly allows the council to defer action on an ICC investigation for a limited period to pursue a diplomatic settlement.

It’s a little disappointing, he said, when even your allies “start shooting at you.”

Photo credit: Stan Honda/AFP/Getty Images

Colum Lynch is Foreign Policy’s award-winning U.N.-based senior diplomatic reporter. @columlynch

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