Helen Clark, who as New Zealand’s prime minister in 2004 froze relations with Israel until it apologized for fraudulently trying to obtain New Zealand passports, is currently visiting the country as head of the United Nations Development Program.
Clark is the third-highest ranking official in the UN hierarchy.
The Foreign Ministry issued a statement saying the visit represented “an additional step in the strengthening of the relationship between Israel and the UN, and positions Israel as an important UN partner vis-à-vis the UN agenda aimed at the eradication of poverty, economic development and job creation.”
The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) is the UN’s global development body focused on giving advice, training and financial support to developing countries and helping them deal with issues such as poverty reduction, HIV/AIDS treatment, democratic governance, energy and environment, social development, and crisis prevention and recovery.
Ties between Clark and Jerusalem have not always been cordial, as she was at the helm in New Zealand when relations between the countries soured significantly in 2004 after two Israelis were arrested for trying to fraudulently obtain passports. They were later convicted, fined $100,000 and served three months of a sixmonth sentence. They were then deported back to Israel.
The New Zealand government maintained the two were Mossad agents, something Israel never publicly admitted.
Clark, who was New Zealand’s prime minister at the time, froze relations with Israel and said they would be renewed only after Israel issued an apology and a commitment that similar acts would not take place in the future.
Then-foreign minister Silvan Shalom sent a letter of apology in 2005, expressing “regret for the activities which resulted in the arrest and conviction of two Israeli citizens in New Zealand on criminal charges” and apologizing “for the involvement of Israeli citizens in such activities.”
There may, however, have been more to New Zealand’s anger than met the eye. The Wikileaks cache of leaked US diplomatic cables in 2010 included one from New Zealand saying Clark’s government at the time had little to lose, “and possibly something to gain in the Arab world,” by slamming Israel over the incident.
Two days later another cable read that Clark’s government saw this flap “as an opportunity to bolster its credibility with the Arab community, and by doing so, perhaps, help New Zealand lamb and other products gain greater access to a larger and more lucrative market.”
Clark is believed to be interested in succeeding UN Secretary- General Ban Ki-moon when his term expires in 2016.