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December 21, 2012

Is Israel Harper's Fair-Haired Boy?

Reuel S. Amdur

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Foreign Minister John Baird went down to New York to address the UN General Assembly in opposition to admission of Palestine as a non-member observer state and to cast Canada's vote against it. He issued Canada's condemnation of the move "in the strongest possible terms." The extent of his influence in the international community can be judged in the resulting vote, where Canada stood foursquare in the General Assembly with the United States, Israel, the Czech Republic, the Marshall Islands, and a handful of other ministates. (Incidentally, may we expect to see the opening of an Israeli embassy in Majuro sometime soon, with an Israeli-Marshallese exchange of ambassadors?) Baird's reasoning is that peace between Israel and Palestine can only be achieved through direct negotiations, not through a unilateral request by Palestine for recognition.

After the UN General Assembly issued what was in effect a rebuke to Israel, if not as well to its most ardent supporters, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu gave his response: 3000 new homes in the West Bank, cutting East Jerusalem off from the West Bank.  As well, Israel will seize $120 million in taxes that Israel collects for the Palestinian Authority, perhaps more later.  This punishment of Palestine for seeking UN status resulted in a condemnation by the Canadian government.  Does that not show that the Harper government is being even handed? 

Not at all, says Thomas Woodley, President of Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East.  The opposition to Palestinian recognition was “firm and prominent,” while the criticism of Israel’s retaliation was “much more subdued,” he argued.

To illustrate the correctness of this analysis, consider Baird’s comments in the House of Commons, wherein he cast blame for Israel’s actions back on the Palestinians: “The Palestinian Authority’s action and provocative rhetoric at the United Nations would obviously elicit a response from Israel.  Neither is helpful to advance the cause of peace and we do not support either.”  The government did let it be known that Harper had issued as rebuke to Netanyahu over the phone.  Canada’s basic argument to both Israel and Palestine is that “unilateral actions” are not helpful to the peace process. 

So, apparently, from the Harper government’s perspective, Palestine goaded Israel.  Israel reacted to provocation.  Of course, this is all backward.  The Palestinian Authority reacted to the continuing provocation of ongoing settler colonization.  The Government of Canada website declares the building of settlements in the West Bank to be a violation of international law, but Canada does not say that publicly.  As Baird explained, the Israeli reaction to the statehood bid was to be expected, a “response,” albeit one that is unhelpful and not supported by Canada. 

Israel and its supporters have insisted on peace talks as the only way to achieve a two-state solution.  Such talks are to be, it is stated, to be without preconditions.  Nevertheless, Netanyahu has set preconditions.  In addressing Jerusalem expansion, he stated that “these houses. . . are going to be part of Israel in a final political settlement of peace.” And, “Israel will keep the planned settlement corridor under any future peace deal.”  When Netanyahu addressed the U.S. Congress, he set down other preconditions.  A Palestinian state would have no control over its own borders and would have no army.  As for the colonial settlements, they would all remain.  Would that be a state or a Bantustan?

Woodley set down the three-point policy for an Israeli-Palestinian peace settlement:

1)              Support international law.  Palestine has a right to statehood on the basis of the right to self-determination and the human rights of Palestinians.  On the basis of self-interest, it is understandable that Israel opposes Palestinian statehood, but what possible interest would Canada have for such opposition?  And, said Woodley, “A vote for Palestine is not a vote against Israel.” 

2)              Set equal expectations on all parties.  “Canada is right to condemn the launching of rockets from Gaza.  These are aimed at civilians.  But we should also condemn the blockade, assassinations, and the destruction of civilian property and infrastructure such as bridges and hospitals.”

3)              Violence is not a solution.  Yes, Israel has a right to defend itself.  However, under the UN Charter, military measures are only allowed till the matter is raised before the Security Council, which is to arrange a cease-fire as quickly as possible. 

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