7 Dec 2023

Gaza ceasefire debate: Opposition pleas for stronger statement largely rejected

3:31 pm on 7 December 2023
Winston Peters during the first debate of the 54th Parliament.

Winston Peters during the first debate of the 54th Parliament. Photo: VNP / Phil Smith

Prime Minister Christopher Luxon has continued with National's approach in calling for "steps towards" a ceasefire, saying that must be in place before a ceasefire can begin.

But Labour leader Chris Hipkins says waiting until a ceasefire is in place before calling for one is not showing moral leadership.

Foreign Minister Winston Peters in Parliament on Thursday moved that the House:

"Express grave concern at the ongoing violence in Israel and the occupied Palestinian Territories, unequivocally condemn the Hamas terrorist attack on 7 October 2023 and call for the release on all hostages, call on all parties involved in the conflict as well as all countries with influence in the region take urgent steps towards establishing a ceasefire, recognising Israel's right to defend itself in accordance with international law, and that all civilians be protected from armed conflict, affirm that a lasting solution to the conflict will only be achieved by peaceful means and that action to revive the Middle East Peace Process is critical".

"Note that the government will continue its efforts to help all New Zealanders impacted by the conflict."

Opposition parties called for several amendments to the statement, but all but one - put by Labour's Phil Twyford - were opposed by the governing parties.

The successful amendment did not alter the statement itself, only calling for the addition of: "and that process must seek a just and lasting peace that recognises the existence and self-determination of Israelis and Palestinians. We call for the establishment of a free and independent Palestinian state as part of a two-state solution, with both nations having secure and recognised borders where all citizens have equal rights and freedoms".

Notably, Labour's Associate Foreign Affairs spokesperson Damien O'Connor said no person with any ounce of moral courage could see the situation as other than genocide. He used the word a second time in his speech.

"On behalf of the Labour Party we support the call for a ceasefire, a call for an end to this depravity, this genocide, this slaughter-that's what it is,"

Twyford later said, however, that was not Labour's position.

"There's a lot of views on that and certainly a lot of people who believe it is, but there is a big body of international law that has very strict definitions and qualifications about the use of the word genocide, and that's the reason by and large most governments are very cautious about using the word."

Heading into the debating chamber beforehand, National Party leader Christopher Luxon had said a ceasefire could not be arrived at until the conditions were there for it - the same position the party had taken during the coalition negotiations.

"Obviously we all want to see a ceasefire happen in Gaza, but actually there are steps in order for that to happen because for a ceasefire to take place there are certain conditions," Luxon said.

"You actually have to have both sides wanting to do it, you have to have both sides actually it covers the whole geographic area (sic), and importantly you've got to put yourself into a process to actually get back into the Middle East Peace Process.

"None of us wants to see the atrocities that we're observing on our TVs each and every night, but you actually got to put the steps in place to create the conditions for that to take place."

Luxon also said the government was still waiting to receive advice on designating the political wing of Hamas as a terrorist organisation.

Hipkins and Green Party Foreign Affairs spokesperson Golriz Ghahraman both said the motion being put forward by Peters did not go far enough.

Hipkins said New Zealand should be calling for an immediate and permanent ceasefire because it was the right thing to do.

"New Zealand should be sending a very clear message that the violence and the killing has to stop. I think calling for an immediate and permanent ceasefire is the right thing to do.

"I think waiting until a ceasefire is already in existence before we call for one doesn't show moral leadership."

Hamas' deadly intial strike into Israel on 7 October, which prompted Israel's subsequent strikes into Gaza, took place before New Zealand's election, but Hipkins brushed off questions over the then-Labour government's position at the time.

"At the time it was Hamas that was doing that and we condemned them for it," he said.

"I mean, in the very early stages of the conflict we set out a position that was quite strongly worded based on the information at the time, but obviously there's several months have elapsed since then. And what we've seen from the incoming government is a very weak position, I think they should be taking a much stronger position.

"Had we been in government, by now we would have well and truly had a much stronger position on it."

Ghahraman also said an immediate, unconditional and permanent ceasefire was what should be demanded.

"We need aid to go into Gaza, we need the killing of civilians to stop," she said.

"We will be seeking to insert the numbers of those killed, which at the moment for Palestinians has exceeded 16,000 people including 7000 children. It's at 1200 for Israelis."

ACT MP Simon Court had earlier in the day accepted a petition delivered by Brian Tamaki and a group of pro-Israel protesters who were specifically asking the government not call for a ceasefire.

He evoked the Holocaust, and said that "if Israel is not able to survive this attack and these ongoing attacks, then it will be harder for the Jewish people to survive".

"Even elected members of the New Zealand Parliament have felt free to use Hamas slogans like "From the river to the sea", which, if you take Hamas seriously, and we should, do mean the eradication of Israel and its people," he said.

"We should call for peace in the land of Israel, and between Israel and her neighbours. We should call for the return of the hostages, and we should call those who choose death over life what they are: Terrorists."

Peters refused to answer questions about the motion until the debate took place.

"That's why we have these processes, so the whole country can see what we're doing and not just a few of us."

He spoke last in the debate, saying the government's position was consistent with a statement from the UN Secretary General on 4 December.

"What we want on this debate is sincerity, understanding, and insight, and not virtue signalling," he said, before quote the UK's Labour leader Keir Starmer, who said all sides must work for a cessation to the violence to allow for the release of hostages and open dialogue.

"We will only reach that long-term solution if Israel is assured that Hamas cannot carry out an attack like October 7 ever again. Those who can influence Hamas must demand they release the remaining hostages immediately," the quote concluded.

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