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Politics | Palestine

Helen Clark hopes Winston Peters ensures NZ stands on the right side of history on Israel-Palestine conflict

Former prime minister Helen Clark warns that New Zealand needs to be on the right side of history and find peace, not protract war.

She expects an imminent announcement from veteran MP Winston Peters who this week was appointed as Foreign Affairs Minister in the National-led, Act and NZ First coalition government.

“I think New Zealand has been somewhat quiet. Labour eventually issued a statement, National said,’ Well, we need more information and need time to think about it’. Okay, but they’re now in government, and Winston Peters is foreign minister, and they’ve got time to think about it in the official advice system but I think it’s very important, that New Zealand’s voice is heard for peace.”

Clark believes New Zealand needs to stay in a dialogue with the two parties (Israel and Palestine) to the long-standing Israel/Palestine dispute, which involves talking to their diplomatic representatives.

‘It’s got to stop and our country must be a voice for that’

“We all know there’s just no good end to a cycle of violence. And unfortunately, you have both sides, on the extremes, talking about having everything from the river to the sea. If those are the positions, they’ll fight for the rest of my lifetime and everybody else’s.

“We have to draw a line under this horrible conflict, which has seen innocent people killed children, women and men, prisoners on both sides, it’s got to stop and our country must be a voice for that,” Clark says.

The new coalition government has yet to make any announcement on the war in Gaza, with no mention either in its 100-day plan.

This despite a week before the NZ election, New Zealand First listing ‘Foreign Affairs’ as its second topic of priority on their policy list in its manifesto.

However, addressing the media on Wednesday, Prime Minister Christopher Luxon assured that he and Peters have had a number of conversations on foreign affairs and says Peters’ advice and insight so far have been excellent.

This is the third time Peters has served as foreign minister but his first under a National-led government. His last term was under Jacinda Ardern from 2017-2020, with his first term under Clark from 2005 - 2008.

Historical context important

Clark says, “My recollection is when I was prime minister, and Winston Peters was foreign minister, that was when Hamas won the election in Gaza. And there was a lot of talk in Western countries about condemning this. And I remember when Winston Peters said quite objectively, ‘They have won an election right? They did have support’.”

Clark says it’s important to know the historical context between Israel and Palestine, which goes back decades (to Nakba) and did not start on October 7 when Hamas made a terror attack in Israel.

“I’m hoping that going into this, Winston will be taking just a clear view of what will be necessary to try to progress at last a two-state solution (Israel and Palestine), which has been on the table for close to 30 years, in one way or another. New Zealand needs to be on the right side of history here of helping find peace, not protracting war,” Clark says.

Clark was the administrator of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) from 2009 to 2017 and visited the West Bank and Gaza then.

The visit to Gaza left a deep impression on me. There were so many layers of checkpoints to enter Gaza and, as a VIP visitor, I got pretty much whistled through. But you can see the people of Gaza on their side of the fence who often queued for hours to get through checkpoints going for their cancer treatment, appointments or whatever in a hospital on the other side. There wasn’t a lot of dignity about it, none really.”

‘It’s absolutely heartbreaking’

Khan Yunis a town situated in the south of the Gaza Strip, is where Clark says she visited. It’s one of the many places now left flattened due to air raids by Israel.

“I went (Khan Yunis) and was part of the opening of a water treatment project in the area of Khan Yunis, which we’re now hearing about in the reporting from Gaza. I remember talking to local woman who said, ‘We all suffer ill health with our kidneys because we’ve been drinking bad water for years.’ So you think of those faces of people you met at the water facilities and other infrastructure blowin up.”

Clark says she met many UNDP staff, many of whom were local academics, from groups such as civil society, women’s rights, human rights and youth rights activists.

“I was really blown away by the thoughtfulness of the people that I met. Now what I know from a friend I have from Gaza who is in regular contact with me, everyone has relatives and family who have been killed.

“My friend’s wife was due to go to Gaza for the wedding of her brother in December. Well, clearly she cannot go, but even worse, her brother’s fiancee has been killed. And everyone has these stories. It’s absolutely heartbreaking. And I keep thinking of the people that I met and thinking, Are you alive? Because chances are that among those that I rubbed shoulders with that day in Gaza, people are dead.”

Te Ao News has asked the coalition government for a response. No response has been received so far.

Meanwhile, in Qatar, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs reports another ceasefire extension has been announced just 10 minutes before the 7 am deadline. This extension is for only 24 hours.