Nice region of darkness you have here: Stephen Harper visits the Middle East

Why the PM should take a helicopter over the West Bank


Adrian Wyld/CP

A couple of weeks ago I had a long chat with an Israeli official. It was one of those off-the-record deals, so I can’t identify him. But I can say that he is senior, politically powerful, and decidedly on the right of Israel’s political spectrum.

The official took an unwaveringly hard line on Iran. He was much more positive about Israel’s relations with some of its Arab neighbours who make up what he described as “the moderate Sunni camp.”

“Sunni countries like the Egyptian regime or the Jordanian regime, and other Gulf states, they’re not radical. There are certain reservations about Saudi Arabia, of course,” he said. “We have known strategic relations based on common interests,” he continued, speaking of Jordan and Egypt. Asked about relations with countries in the Gulf, he said, “Let’s leave that alone,” which I’m going to take as a yes.

Admittedly, Israel’s relations with its neighbours centre on concerns over its own security, rather than the state of democracy and human rights in those countries. But the official still worked from a starting assumption that Israel is not surrounded by an unchanging sea of mouth-breathing extremists.

What, then, are we to make of Canadian Stephen Harper’s latest proclamation of Canada’s undying affection for Israel?

Speaking last night at the Jewish National Foundation’s annual Negev Dinner, and gushing about a bird sanctuary that was to be named in his honour, Harper noted the preserve would be “in the homeland of the Jewish people, and that light of freedom and democracy in what is otherwise a region of darkness, the state of Israel.”

A moment later, but before breaking into song, Harper announced he would shortly be making his first ever trip to Israel. He’ll also be tacking on visits to Jordan and the West Bank, where I’m sure that “region of darkness” quip will be well received.

Before he gets to Jordan, though, I hope Harper takes a good look around the state he so unabashedly praises. Israeli politicians like to point out how small Israel is, how close the West Bank juts toward the Mediterranean Sea, the short distance a rocket from Palestinian territory would need to fly before hitting Ben Gurion Airport. This can most easily be appreciated from the air.

George W. Bush, when he was a governor and had not yet become president, had this to say after his first trip to Israel in 1998: “It was important for our Israeli host to remind our delegation of how really small it was, so I got on a helicopter one day and flew with the foreign minister, Ariel Sharon, to see first hand how small the population was between, what has been over the course of history, enemy lines and population centers.”

Those helicopter tours can make different impressions, though. Here’s Michael Ignatieff in 2002, before he launched his political career and stopped speaking so frankly:

“When I looked down at the West Bank, at the settlements like Crusader forts occupying the high ground, at the Israeli security cordon along the Jordan river closing off the Palestinian lands from Jordan, I knew I was not looking down at a state or the beginnings of one, but at a Bantustan, one of those pseudo-states created in the dying years of apartheid to keep the African population under control.”

Comparisons to apartheid South Africa are toxic to most Israelis. And yet former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert also made one in 2007 while urging the necessity of a two-state solution:

“If the day comes when the two-state solution collapses, and we face a South African-style struggle for equal voting rights (also for the Palestinians in the territories), then, as soon as that happens, the State of Israel is finished,” he told the Israeli newspaper Haaretz.

“The Jewish organizations, which were our power base in America, will be the first to come out against us, because they will say they cannot support a state that does not support democracy and equal voting rights for all its residents.”

I bring up Olmert’s comments, and those of the unnamed Israeli official, to point out that within Israel, and not only on its leftist fringe, there is a recognition that Israel’s security and prosperity require it to find points of light in the darkness around it, and that its own democracy is flawed and endangered by its continued occupation of Palestinians who don’t have the democratic right to shape the Israeli government that controls them.

“We understand that the future of our country and of our shared civilization depends on the survival and thriving of that free and democratic homeland for the Jewish people in the Middle East,” Harper said last night.

That’s a stretch. Israel deserves to survive and thrive because of what it is and what it has accomplished, not because Canada somehow depends on it.

But Israel’s democracy is threatened by its continued occupation of the West Bank. It can’t claim to be fully democratic when West Bank Palestinians can’t vote in Israeli elections. And enfranchising everyone within the territory it controls would radically dilute the Jewish nature of the state. The status quo, in other words, can’t hold.

Many Israelis understand this. I don’t think Harper does. If he changes his mind, perhaps on a helicopter tour over the West Bank, I hope he tells his hosts. A real friend would.


Nice region of darkness you have here: Stephen Harper visits the Middle East

  1. Harp supports Israel because of his religion. No flight or visit is going to change that.

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      • Unlikely. Palestinians could donate too….anyone can….but that won’t change Harp’s mind.

        • Harper is applying the same process in the Mid East Policy as he does in Canada, ” Divide and Conquer “.

      • with restrictions at 1200 per persona and no business corporation donations he is not relying on the money the ‘jewish lobby’ brings him.

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        • belittling and ignorant.

    • Yep…must be Harper’s non-Jewish Religion.
      Why else would he support the only civilized country in the region with democratic values and rule of law? Why else would he support the only country in the region that doesn’t kill homosexuals, or stone people to death for adultery?
      Unless of course, Emily is one of those folks who thinks Harper is one of the contingent who thinks harper is readying the ground for Christ’s second coming…..but then, if she thought that, she would just be another wing-nut.
      Besides, that can’t be right. If you watch the Canadian Media, the new Messiah is already here, and he’s Canadian. According to the CBC or the Globe and Mail, the 2nd Coming has presented himself in the form of Justin Trudeau. According to Justin himself…he’s here to save us from Angry Tom Mulcair, and the mean spirited Harper.
      (time for another pill Em)

  2. This is a very good, nuanced article and Ignatieff was a much better scholar then politician. Unfortunately, the Harperites see only black and white, or darkness and light. I would not hold out any hope for them seeing even a single shade of gray.

  3. You’re black or white, good or bad, right or wrong, and if you’re not with us, you’re against us. And if you’re against us, you deserve nothing but spite. Great leadership?

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      • Pure, one-colour nonsense. We have as many evil people in our own society as any other, but dont call ourselves evil. Are you saying these extremists just were born that way with no help from imperialism etc? Do you also blame NA natives of being born a bunch of drunks? Its so easy mot to think you might be part of the cause and others may be part of the effect. Are we not evil conquerers to some, to be resisted with moral force? We cannot make the world livable by using only two colours.

  4. “But Israel’s democracy is threatened by its continued occupation of the
    West Bank. It can’t claim to be fully democratic when West Bank
    Palestinians can’t vote in Israeli elections.”

    IOWs Israel is caught in an appalling catch 22. But there has to be some responsibility on the other side. Since Apartheid has been raised, i would say not much progress is likely until the Palestinians produce their own Mandela; a man [ or women, now wouldn’t that be radical?] who’s prepared to tell his own people it is in their interest to find a way to live with the other side – indeed they actually need each other to do more then merely survive.

    • Well, there are any number of Palestinians in Israeli prisons.
      So, I guess if they are looking for a Mandela, they may have

      • Sure there are. There’s more then enough grief to go around. But they haven’t produced a Mandela, and if they did would they listen to him?
        Palestinians have made some bad choices. Dancing in the streets while Saddam lobbed rockets into Israel was not perhaps a good move in retrospect.

    • Palestine has women leaders….you’ve seen Hanan Ashrawi on TV…..and even an all-female political party.

      • Yes i have. Don’t know her well, but she seems a very impressive person.

  5. It would require a tectonic shift of Harper’s inner logic to divorce his undistinguised conflating of ends and means. Isreal is but one manifestation.

  6. Hey, can we change the locks on the door while he’s gone?

  7. DEMOCRACY!?!?!?!? More like a tyranny!
    They’ve got the whole world at bay.

  8. Petrou is right. The status quo can’t endure. There will be a one state or a two state solution. But, from a security perspective, changing from limbo to a two-state situation now may be worse than changing from limbo to a two-state solution later. Many lives might be saved, the generals argue (and have successfully argued ever since the “Greater Israel” concept lost any air of reality). Petrou ignores this. And the generals have a certain point. When did the rockets stop from Gaza, allowing the IDF to conclude it can safely vacate Ramallah? At a very abstract level, Canadians ought to be familiar with the political notion of waiting for winning conditions.

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          • I learned something from Ahmadinejad who when speaking on behalf of Iran, publicly denied that the holocaust ever happened – how do you spell hate? Just so you know, I don’t hate anyone including Muslims but I hate their violent totalitarian ideology because the literal practice of 6th century Islam threatens our freedom and democracy like nothing else ever has. I also believe in freedom of religion but if anyone believes that I should be killed for failing to share in their delusions, I have a problem with that and you should too.

          • Ahmadinejad was never in charge of Iran….and his term is up so he is gone.

            Do you judge all Christians to be the same because of a few wackos?

            If you think Ahmadinejad was a worse danger to humanity than the Cold War nuclear threat you have a mental problem

          • The Cold War again, Emily?

            You seem obsessed, particularly in view of the fact that “… think” never mentioned it one way or another.

          • ‘Islam threatens our freedom and democracy like nothing else ever has’ is what he said.

            I think the world wide nuclear war threat of the Cold War era was a tad worse

          • Not really.

            People grossly exaggerate the probability of nuclear war as well as its potential effects.

          • Oh well then….as long as you think it’s minor, I guess it’s okay

          • Speaking out in the face of impending danger is not hate or incitement. Instead, it is the practice of “eternal vigilance” that should always be at the forefront in any free and democratic society because our brave veterans died fighting for our freedom and far too many Canadians take their sacrifice and our freedom for granted instead of standing in defense of it. Your assumption that there are only a few Islamic wackos carrying-out their endless attacks is patently wrong. Their violent and hateful actions are taught to each and every one of them from an ancient book they consider sacred. The vast majority of terrorism on earth stems from these teachings and this world-wide mayhem is not the actions of just a “few wackos”.

          • There is always some problem in the world….but there is no need to panic because of a few nutbars. We’ll survive.

            Your mind is, however, already mush.

          • The few nut bars that you are referring to number in the tens of thousands. In seeing the slant of your self-righteous comments, I respectfully suggest that your mind is closed-and-locked and no amount of fact will open it so it seems safe to think that you and I will have to agree to disagree. One final thought, “United we stand – divided we fall” and instead of sniping at each other, the strength of our collective comments should be aimed in defense of Canada, not in defense of an extremist cult trying to masquerade as just another benign religion (of peace).

          • There are over a billion Muslims in the world….so your ‘terrorists’ are a few nutbars

            Thousands of Christians are also terrorists….are you terrified of them too?

            Then there are Hindu and Buddhist terrorists….them too?

            Every religion has it’s fundies and wackos… gonna spend your life hiding under your bed?

            No, we aren’t going to war with any of them. Canada is in no danger.

          • If the experiences of the Netherlands means anything to you, their dire situation is also going to be ours, and based that, it’s only a matter of time before the same problems surface here. Change the topic if you like but throwing in all sorts of unrelated scenarios has nothing to do with the dangers-of-denial that our well intentioned multiculturalists are in. Yes, they have good intentions – the same good intentions that the “road to hell is said to be paved with”. Nonetheless, neither one of us is going to convince the other and either way, we have both had our say. Thank you for your comments, JDM

          • The Netherlands are just fine, and so are we.

            Now take a valium, and chill on the hysteria.

          • Well, I was trying to say good-night, but if you think the Netherlands are fine, just search Dutch Politician Geert Wilders at YouTube and when you are done there, Google the Religion of Peace dot com where they chronicle thousands of Islamic attacks from one year to the next including the horrors that occurred on 9 /11. The hysteria that you seem to think I have could better be described as the calm rational thought from someone who has lost a father and one step-father who were defending our freedom during World War II and I know they would not appreciate me acting like a sitting duck in the face of another totalitarian ideology plotting to expand throughout the world. Good-night again and… with my best regards to you.

          • Geert Wilders is a racist loon making money off gullible people like you

            Hey….you want horrors? Check out what dreadful things the christians have done….Muslims aren’t even close.

            This isn’t WWII….and as to the ‘plotting to take over the world’…’ve seen far too much 007….or Pinky and the Brain.

  10. Many Israelis understand this. I don’t think Harper does.

    he probably does (he appears to be a very well informed man). but he doesn’t care. The plan here is to appeal to a few key ridings in Canada where they think they can reduce the Liberal vote on the issue, and if it gets him a welcome reception in some parts of the US well that’s an added bonus.

    If another position would be more politically advantageous, he would take that position.

  11. Mr Petrou brings his own biased perspective to the debate. The Palestinians tried to destroy the State of Israel in 1948, 1956, 1967, 1973 and today. What did Israel get when it left Gaza? Rockets fired at its civilians. Palestinians and surrounding Arab countries refuse to recognize Israel’s right to exist. When they do, stop firing rockets, stop attacking Jews, and willingly make peace, it will happen. They have no State today and never will as long as they persist in their desire to destroy the State of Israel. Read their textbooks and the indoctrination of their children taught to hate the Jews even before they can read. Similar to the anti – Semites who can say nothing good aboutbIsrael.

    Palestinians do not vote in Israel’s elections Mr Pertou because they are not Israeli citizens. Do non Canapdians vote in Canadian elections? Of course not so why should Israel be held to a standard that does not apply anywhere in the World. Israel deserves to exist because Jews cannot be safe anywhere in the world without it, not even in Canada. Just read some of the posts here.

    Israel is not going anywhere Mr Petrou, not into the Mediterranean Sea and not back into the gas chambers.

    • I think, my dear Zionest friend, that you really ought to read your true history before you try to label everyone who says anything about Israel as being an anti-Semite. To start with, I suggest you read Ilan Pappe’s book THE ETHNIC CLEANSING OF PALESTINE. Pappe is a Jew, born in Israel, who holds the Chair in History at the University of Exeter. He knows what he is talking about. And so do a growing number of Israelis who agree with him.

      The so-called “1948 Israeli War of Independence involved one of the largest forced migrations in modern history. Around a million people were expelled from their homes at gunpoint, civilians were massacred, and hundreds of Palestinian villages destroyed. Denied for almost six decades, had it happened today it could only have been called “ethnic cleansing.” — from the back cover of the book.

    • Mr. Petrou may have his biases, and he certainly points out problems with Israel in this article, but this is the first time I have ever seen it hinted at that he is too pro-Islamic states.

  12. “Don’t Believe Think” is not only on the right track but on the only track that will prevent the intractable religious self-interested disasters which otherwise will continue forever.

  13. “The status quo, in other words, can’t hold.”

    All well and good, but changing the status quo is far easier said than done.

    Time and time again the Palestinian leadership has rejected offers to create Palestine for them, presumably in the hope (or expectation) that some better offer will result down the road.

    The reality is that, if anything, the offers to create Palestine have become less favourable as time passes.

    Had they accepted the famous ‘1967 borders’ in 1966 they’d have had them, for example, but that train left the station decades ago.

    Arafat could have had East Jerusalem, but apparently rejected that offer, at least in part because it did not include all of Jerusalem, saying that Jerusalem was not his to give away. In that last he was correct, for it is Israel’s to give away, or not as the case now seems to be.

    • Read my comment to Robert above. You need to clue in on the truth.

      • That’s all history, Jackal.

        The Palestinians live in the here and now, and that’s a lot less than it could be, were it not for their continued intransigence.

        Yearning to turn back the clock has been, and is, getting them nowhere.

        For them, from their perspective, ‘the perfect’ has become the enemy of ‘the good’. By insisting on the impossible, they deny themselves the achievable.

        Pragmatism can offer a way forward where empty beliefs have brought them nothing.

      • Reply to GlynnMhor:
        The “peace” plan at Camp David was a farce. The plan was written by the Israeli’s and excluded Jerusalem. There would never be a Palestinian capital in Jerusalem. The way the proposal was defined the future of a Palestinian state amounted to a total distortion of the concepts of statehood. The frail Arafat, realised that the Israeli diktat empted all Palestinian demands of content, so he refused to sign.

        And with it brought the second Initafa against Israel — sticks and stones against guns. The world looks on as the strongest military power in the region, with its American Apache helicopters, tanks and bulldozers, attacks an unarmed and defenseless population of civilians and impoverished refugees, among whom small groups of poorly equipped militias try to make a brave but ineffective stand. — from Pappe’s book.

        And now you have the daily harrassment of Gaza by drones (read Jonathan Cook’s account), a small strip of land occupied by 1.7 million prisoners, surrounded on all sides by Israeli military, which will never have an opportunity to become independent.

        I abhor all stupid religions just as I hate war and mostly I dislike our great leader as he fawns over a country that is going to lead the world into an Armageddon

        Read the damned book and learn!

        • So you thought the plan not good enough for the Palestinians?

          Yet it was better than they have today.

          That’s the impracticality of refusing what you can get while wishing for what you cannot get.

          • BTW, Jackal, I’ve read lots of one-sided books.

            You quote from Pappe of a “brave but ineffective stand”, and the keyword there is “ineffective”.

            The Palestinians need to start using effective methods and approaches, not ones based on dreams of historical revanche.