Bill English isolated as the only person in caucus supporting McCully’s Israel stance

Richard Harman writes

The restoration of relations yesterday with Israel marks the end of what appears to have been an intense and divisive standoff within the Cabinet and National Party.

The standoff saw the Prime Minister, Bill English, effectively isolated in a minority of one among his Cabinet colleagues.

The standoff began on December 23 last year when former Foreign Minister, Murray McCully, agreed that New Zealand co-sponsor a controversial UN Security Council resolution opposing Israeli settlements on occupied territories

POLITIK has learned that once former Foreign Minister, Murray McCully retired in April, the Prime Minister, Bill English was left as the only supporter of McCully’s move.

I guess Big Gerry had the “right language” after all.

Israel announced yesterday that after some weeks of secret diplomacy it would restore its Ambassador to Wellington after he was withdrawn as a protest against New Zealand’s Security Council move.

An Embassy statement said: “Following discreet high-level bilateral discussions had been held over a period of several months by the Director-General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Yuval Rotem and MFA Deputy Director-General, Head of the Division for Asia and the Pacific Mark Sofer Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke on the telephone several days ago with New Zealand Prime Minister Bill English. “

“Following the discussions, PM English dispatched a letter to PM Netanyahu, in which he stated: ‘First and most importantly, as I said in our conversation, I regret the damage done to relations between New Zealand and Israel as a result of New Zealand’s co-sponsorship of UNSC resolution 2334.’

No he doesn’t.  But by the time Big Gerry and Solid Steve link hands with Pushy Paula, you have to be very sure of your ground.

Keep in mind that McCully stated that UNSC 2334 was the proudest moment, the apex, of his whole political career.  Bill English, being the shit politician that he is, backs his mates no matter the cost to the rest of the party, the country, and this time – even the world.

“We welcome the return of Israel’s ambassador to Wellington,” the statement said.

Members of the Jewish community in Auckland, many of whom are National Party supporters, lobbied MPs. Some threatened to resign; some threatened to withdraw financial support.

My readers still wanted to debate with me that it was a “nothing thing” and it was just me that was getting my nose out of joint.   I pointed out that when Madman Bradbury and the Prime Minister of this country agreed on something, it wasn’t my compass that was dodgy.

By the time he retired at the end of April, McCully was apparently isolated within the Cabinet with support from only the Prime Minister, Bill English.

Attorney General Chris Finlayson is said to have been particularly incensed by McCully’s move.

Good on you Chris.  Someone with balls to stand up against English.

Privately McCully has told friends of the opposition from within the party that he faced over the resolution.

Within 48 hours of McCully’s resignation his successor, Gerry Brownlee, told RNZ that the UN resolution was “premature”.

And he wrote to Netanyahu suggesting the two countries find ways to revive the relationship.

That appears to have led to the talks between Israeli diplomat Yuval Rotem and MFAT official, Mark Sofer which have now resulted in the return of the Ambassador.

But Brownlee had to endure a humiliating public putdown from English over his RNZ interview.

In a May 8 press conference, English said: “We’re not describing it (the resolution) as premature,” he said.

It wasn’t Brownlee that was humiliated.  It was English.   The voters could see that he was wielding power through his office, not due to the respect and acquiescence from colleagues.

That raised the eyebrows of other Cabinet Ministers who were not used to seeing Ministers being treated in public like this by the Prime Minister.

“Raised eyebrows” is like “tired and emotional”.  It set in motion a rift that is unlikely to be repaired.  Keep in mind that English has not seen the error of his ways.  English is still pro-Palestinian and anti-Israel.  And still thinks 2334 reflects New Zealand’s “long standing” position.  Like hell it does.

But Brownlee appears unperturbed by the Prime Minister’s comments. The pair are currently on a Pacific tour together.

However, it is clear that he is determined to stamp his own mark on the Foreign Affairs portfolio.

Another move he has made which has attracted attention has been his overtures to Fiji Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama.

That was marked by Brownlee presenting Bainimarama (a rugby fan) with a Crusaders’ jersey.

And despite some resistance from the NZ Defence Force Brownlee persuaded them to send the inshore patrol vessel, HMNZS Hawea to Fiji in late April to help patrol its territorial water and Exclusive Economic Zone over the next six months.

Its deployment marked the first time that a New Zealand Navy Inshore Patrol Vessel has been deployed to the South Pacific.

Seems to me that Brownlee has the right idea.  The same arrogance that saw him walking through airport security is now standing him in good stead as he is no longer willing to toe the company line while it is being headed up by Billy Bob English.

The Israeli move is something of a victory for Brownlee and he was getting congratulatory texts and messages yesterday on it. In many ways it marks the end of the McCully era in foreign policy and the beginning of the Brownlee era.

In many ways it shows that Bill English is a political dead man walking.   He does not reflect the values of National voters as a whole.   His second stint at being party leader will end with the same unremarkable whimper as the first.

Some will wonder if this has changed my party vote back to National.

Not until they turf English.



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As much at home writing editorials as being the subject of them, Cam has won awards, including the Canon Media Award for his work on the Len Brown/Bevan Chuang story. When he’s not creating the news, he tends to be in it, with protagonists using the courts, media and social media to deliver financial as well as death threats.

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