Israel warned NZ of serious consequences if it backed a UN resolution over settlements, says an Israel newspaper, but an Israeli official in Wellington says while relations are currently cool, it was still 'business as usual'.
The warning, reported today by major Israel daily newspaper Haaretz, came before New Zealand co-sponsored and voted for a resolution passed by the United Nations Security Council this month, that called Israeli settlement building in occupied territories 'illegal' and demanded that it stop.
The resolution passed after the United States - which, as a permanent Security Council member, holds the power of veto - abstained from the vote.
Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has already summoned and reprimanded the ambassadors of 10 of the countries that voted in favour, and has cancelled meetings with their foreign ministers - a freeze on relations that includes New Zealand.
Haaretz, citing unnamed Western diplomats, said Mr Netanyahu told New Zealand Foreign Affairs Minister McCully: "If you continue to promote this resolution from our point of view it will be a declaration of war.
"It will rupture the relations and there will be consequences. We'll recall our ambassador," the Israeli leader reportedly said.
Mr McCully has confirmed he had been in telephone communication with Mr Netenyahu before the vote.
But he declined to reveal what was said in the conversation.
Through a spokesman, he said no one should have been surprised at the New Zealand resolution, which had been this country's position for a long time.
Israel's ambassador to New Zealand was withdrawn after the vote and New Zealand's ambassador is barred from Israel.
An official at the Israeli embassy in Wellington described diplomatic relations between New Zealand and Israel as "cool".
But she rebutted a CNN report that Israel was refusing to speak to Mr McCully.
"Communications with the Foreign Minister are ongoing and normal government-to-government relations are business as usual," she said.
The New Zealand Jewish Council said it was disappointed by New Zealand's actions in co-sponsoring the resolution.
But council spokeswoman Juliette Moses said relations between the two countries remained strong.
New Zealand recently sent a high-level delegation to learn about Israeli start-up companies, Ms Moses said.
Trump could punish NZ over UN resolution
Waikato University international law professor Al Gillespie said the incoming United States president Donald Trump was likely to be hostile over the vote.
Mr Trump had pressured for a veto of the resolution by the US and called the United Nations "sad" after the resolution passed.
"He's likely to remember the countries that voted for this resolution and did not support it the way that he wanted to go," Dr Gillespie said.
"He will have expected that other countries like New Zealand and Senegal would not have picked up the baton as they did. Whether he will forgive or forget that is a matter of debate."
But New Zealanders should be proud of the courage the government showed in co-sponsoring the resolution, he said.
"We've been on the Security Council for coming up to two years now, but it's only in the last few months that we've developed a really strong, independent voice.
"A lot of countries voted for us to be [on the Security Council] and to speak, as we have done, as an independent voice."
Meanwhile, Mr Netanyahu's administration is insisting the United States orchestrated the passage of the resolution.
His diplomatic retaliations, which also included cancelling aid to countries that voted in favour, have raised concerns he is isolating Israel.
CNN analyst Oren Liebermann said Mr Netanyahu felt betrayed by President Barack Obama after the US chose not to use its power of veto.
Although the resolution was only a recommendation or guideline, it still set a legal precedent.
"It may take years for that precedent to be acted upon but Netanyahu and the Israeli government know it's been set."