By: EINAT WILF AND NOAH SLEPKOV
In a recent Globe and Mail op-ed, Nabeel Shaath tried to persuade readers that Canada once played a constructive role in its handling of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but that today Canada has shifted away from the “historic path” to play an obstructive role. The truth is precisely the opposite.
Canada’s policy is, and always was, guided by a firm commitment to a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East, to be achieved through direct negotiations between the two sides in order to resolve all outstanding issues. But unlike the past, the Palestinians are no longer able to distract Canada away from that goal by trying to shift attention on symptoms of the conflict, rather than its root causes. The simple fact, now seen clearly by Canada’s leadership, is that the Palestinians are not prepared to make the difficult, but necessary decisions, that would end the conflict and are therefore using any possible excuse to avoid negotiations.
In the past, Canadian leadership often took the comfortable path of least resistance by voting with the majority of countries in international forums. The current leadership of Canada has chosen the far more difficult and courageous path of focusing on resolving the conflict by facing reality and truth. Granted, this means that Canada no longer enjoys the comfort of the majority, but it does mean that Canada is now a leading nation rather than a follower.
What is most telling about Mr. Shaath’s article is that, instead of commenting on Israel’s request that Canada play an active role in restarting peace talks or Benjamin Netanyahu’s talks with Mr. Baird about Canadian economic-development initiatives in the Palestinian territories, as reported in the Globe and Mail, Mr. Shaath preferred to distract Canadians by criticizing Mr. Baird for meeting with Israeli officials in East Jerusalem, calling it a provocation.
Holding meetings with Israeli officials in east Jerusalem is in no way a provocation. After all, when the UN General Assembly voted in 1947 to support partition of Palestine into two states Jewish and Arab, it also voted to leave the massive stretch of land including Jerusalem, Bethlehem and their wide surroundings as a “Corpus Separatum” belonging to neither, and to be administered internationally. In the 66 years that have passed since, the world has in effect recognized neither Jordanian, Israeli or Palestinian control of any part of this area and has maintained that the status of the Jerusalem will be determined in negotiations that end the conflict. But as long as the status of Jerusalem has not been negotiated as part of an agreement that ends the conflict, there can be no shortcuts, and diplomats and leaders from around the world should be free to meet their counter parts in both East and West Jerusalem.
In fact, rather than negotiating with Israel over the status of Jerusalem, the Palestinians are conducting a global campaign to argue that Israel is trying to make Jerusalem Jewish, neglecting to accept that East Jerusalem, and especially the ancient holy city of Jerusalem, was once the capital of ancient Israel, millennia before the Arab conquest of the city. It is also worth noting that only under Israeli control has Jerusalem remained a city open to all peoples, of all religions, to practice their religion freely.
Mr. Shaath also brings the issue of Palestinian refugees as an example of Canada straying from the right path. But the fact is that despite sincere efforts by Canada to help resolve the refugee issue, the number of Palestinians calling themselves refugees, even though they were born and live in Palestinian-controlled territory has continued to mushroom. These manufactured refugees, who are taught to believe that they have a right to claim Israel as their home, create an even larger obstacle to peace and reflect in practice the continued Arab denial that the Jewish people have an equal and legitimate right to self-determination in their own state.
Mr. Shaath’s suggestion that Canada is no longer contributing to projects such as an international airport in Gaza is part of his attempt to persuade Canadians that Canada is no longer interested in the peace process. But why should Canadian tax dollars be spent on helping Hamas, a designated terrorist organization in Canada, the European Union, Japan, and the United States, build infrastructure, while Hamas spends its money on launching rockets to attack populated civilian areas in Israel? How will supporting an organization committed to Israel’s destruction further the peace process?
Under the leadership of Stephen Harper and Mr. Baird, now more than ever, Canada is poised to contribute to the achievement of real peace by no longer enabling the Palestinians to escape their own responsibility and the difficult choices that they, like all people who seek self-determination, need to make. It is at times a more lonely path for Canada, but one which more and more countries who truly care about peace are bound to follow.
Mr. Baird’s visit was not in a slap to Palestinians, but it did hold up a mirror to the Palestinians, that tactics of delay, distraction, endless escape from tough decisions, avoiding negotiations and serious assumption of responsibility will no longer find a ready audience among those who truly care about achieving peace.
Einat Wilf was a Member of Israel’s 18th Knesset, serving on the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. She holds a PhD in Political Science from the University of Cambridge.
Noah Slepkov is a foreign policy and political strategy advisor in Tel Aviv. He serves as an Adjunct Fellow at the Jewish People Policy Institute in Jerusalem.