Why Canada should support the Palestinian membership bid at the UN

And why Israel should too


Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas prepares to make bid to the UN General Assembly on Nov. 29 (Thaer Ghanaim/Getty)

In the West Bank several years ago, I asked a Palestinian activist how he proposed convincing Israel to make some sort of concession to Palestinian sovereignty. I forget now the specific point we were discussing. But I do remember his response. Israel, he said, cannot be convinced of anything. It must be compelled — non-violently, he added.

Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, he said, is old-fashioned colonialism, and throughout history colonizers have never given up their colonies simply because they felt like it. They were pressured to do so. There may be exceptions to the rule, but broadly speaking, he’s right. Colonies are freed when the costs of keeping them outweigh the benefits.

I’d argue that Israel has long since passed this point with the West Bank. Controlling the territory without giving citizenship rights to the Palestinians who live there erodes Israel’s democratic legitimacy; annexing the place and enfranchising all its inhabitants would soon make Jews a minority in all of Israel.

This was clear to the Zionist leader and politician Zalman Aran, who, following Israel’s victory in the 1967 Six-Day War, said controlling the West Bank “will do us more harm than good. We will choke on it.” Four decades later, then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert voiced similar concerns that the failure of a two-state solution would lead to a South African-style campaign for equal voting rights for all residents of Israel and the West Bank, and if were that to happen, “the state of Israel is finished.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu publicly favours a two-state solution but rejects Israel’s 1967 borders as a basis for negotiations, calling them unrealistic and indefensible. Hundreds of thousands of Israeli Jews now live beyond those borders in settlements throughout the West Bank and their numbers have grown steadily since Israel captured the territory in the 1967 Six-Day War. Peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority governing the West Bank broke down in 2010 when Israel refused to extend a 10-month freeze on settlement construction in the West Bank unless the Palestinians recognized Israel as a Jewish State, which they refused to do. About one fifth of Israeli citizens are not Jewish.

With negotiations stalled and Palestinian civilians frustrated because of the lack of any real progress toward statehood, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is trying other tactics. Tomorrow at the United Nations, he will ask the international body to upgrade Palestine’s status to “non-member observer” state.

Israel’s response in the run-up to this vote — which will be supported by a majority of member states, including several from the European Union — has been hot and hyperbolic. It threatened sanctions and the withholding of tax revenues it collects on behalf of the Palestinian Authority. Earlier this month, a position paper leaked from the Foreign Ministry proposed “toppling” Abbas if the Palestinian bid was approved.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper reportedly piled on, meeting with Abbas in New York to threaten “consequences,” which included closing the Palestinian delegation office in Ottawa and sending the Palestinian envoy home.

It is only in recent days, according to a report in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, that Israel prepared to back down. As it became clear that more Western nations would support the motion, Israel saw decreasing value in punishing the Palestinians for it. It still opposes the motion, but plans a much more muted response.

“We examined different ways to react, but eventually the ministers realized that almost whatever we do will hurt Israel at least as much as it will hurt the Palestinians,” a diplomatic source told Haaretz.

Israel’s position is worth examining in more detail. Israel’s argument is that a Palestinian state must be negotiated and that this motion avoids that process. They also fear that the Palestinians will use their upgraded status to press their case at the International Criminal Court. These are not illogical concerns, but they miss the bigger and more important picture.

The Palestinians are currently divided between Abbas’s Fatah party, which governs the West Bank, and the Islamist group Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip and has spent much of the last six years sending rockets against Israeli civilians.

Hamas has just emerged from an eight-day war with Israel militarily weakened but arguably strengthened politically. It showed it could rocket Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, and it survived Israel’s air campaign against it. It negotiated a ceasefire with Israel, and in doing so drew international attention and involvement, including from the United States. At no time did Israel publicly discuss toppling it.

Unlike Hamas, Mahmoud Abbas has committed to non-violent measures. “As long as I’m sitting here, in this position, I will not allow an intifada. We will act only through diplomatic and peaceful means,” he told Israel’s Channel 2 News earlier this year.

He also implicitly gave up Palestinians’ “right of return” that would allow Palestinian refugees and their descendents who were forced from their homes in the 1948 Israeli war of independence to return to live in Israel.

“I want to see Safed,” he told Channel 2, referring to his boyhood home in Galilee. “It is my right to see it, but not to live there. Palestine now for me is ’67 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital. I believe that the West Bank and Gaza is Palestine and all the other parts are Israel.”

During the final years of former Palestinian chairman Yasser Arafat’s leadership, Israelis often claimed they didn’t have a legitimate negotiating partner for peace. They were probably right. They have one now in Abbas, yet Israel considered toppling him over what is essentially a symbolic diplomatic publicity stunt at a time when Abbas needs to demonstrate his utility to ordinary Palestinians who may be looking to Hamas.

If Abbas is removed, or is marginalized to the point of irrelevance, it is difficult to imagine a Palestinian leader who is more amenable to Israeli interests taking his place at the negotiating table. If Fatah crumbles in the West Bank, Hamas will rise. Abbas needs a boost right now. Canada should vote for his motion at the United Nations. For that matter, so should Israel.


Why Canada should support the Palestinian membership bid at the UN

  1. Yes, we should. But we won’t.

    Our foreign policy is set by the Bible.

    • Stephen Harper’s shameless partisanship on the Middle East has little to do with the Bible, and everything to do with plain dirty politics. The relentless pro-Israel lobby does not even have to work terribly hard with this redneck crew from the backwoods. If they genuinely cared about a Biblical perspective, they’d spare a thought for the Christian Palestinians who also demand justice against Israeli neo-colonialism, and the North American racket that has backed it for half a century.

      • Genesis 12: 1-3 The founding of Israel

        1 The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.

        2 “I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great,and you will be a blessing.

        3 I will bless those who bless you,and whoever curses you I will curse;and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.

        Evangelicals….fundies….follow this to the letter, and would support Israel even if Israel was bombing Paris and London.

        • No they don’t you prevaricating dissimulator.

          Maybe if you went and actually talked to an evangelical (There’s millions of them… even in Toronto) and found out what they really believe, instead of relying on Reddit atheist hearsay, online fomenting pamphleteers and cheesy neo-secularist demagogues looking for easy enemies (e.g.Bill Maher); you’d learn they all believe in what they call the doctrine of the New Covenant.

          Look it up, and quit it with the lying and the hate.

          Oh, and Jews don’t use babies blood in Matzo, just in case that’s where you were going next.

          • Nature is pure war with every man against another.

            Fear of death is the only way to keep the peace, so man is civilized by the threat of violence against him for transgressions upon his neighbor.

            The only thing that makes man civilized is the ability for the weakest to kill the strongest.

            Good and evil are names that signify our appetites and aversions, which in different tempers, customs, and doctrines of men are different: and diverse men differ not only in their judgement on the senses of what is pleasant and unpleasant to the taste, smell, hearing, touch, and sight; but also of what is conformable or disagreeable to reason in the actions of common life.

            The condition of nature is a condition of war, private appetite is the measure of good and evil.

            Whatsoever is the object of any man’s appetite or desire, that is it which he for his part calls good; and the object of his hate and aversion, evil; and of his contempt, vile and inconsiderable

            For these words of good, evil, and contemptible are ever used with relation to the person that uses them: there being nothing simply and absolutely so; nor any common rule of good and evil to be taken from the nature of the objects themselves; but from the person of the man.

            As the inventions of men are woven, so also are they raveled out…

            Your morals, your code, it’s a bad joke dropped at the first sign of trouble… You’re only as good as the world allows you to be.

            When the chips are down, you “civilized” people will eat each other.

            You see, I’m not a monster, I’m just ahead of the curve.

            You have all these rules and you think they’ll “save” you, when the only sensible way to live in this world is without rules.

            I already told you, I’m not here to “save” anybody… I’m like a dog chasing cars, I wouldn’t know what to do with one if I caught it…

            You’re a schemer, a schemer trying to control your little world… I’m not a schemer, I try to show you schemers how pathetic your attempts to control things really are.

            I introduce a little anarchy, upset the established order and everything becomes chaos.

            I’m an agent of chaos… And you know the thing about chaos?

            It’s fair…


          • “you prevaricating dissimulator”

            Somebody please take fancypants’ thesaurus away.

        • I’m not on anyone’s side.

          If the Iranians nuke Israel, the Palestinians also die in the fallout.

          If the Israelis nuke Tehran that doesn’t bother me either.

          It is a win/win situation for me, because I don’t like any of them.

      • I feel it’s definitely politics, but not necessarily dirty. Harper’s taking an extreme position to try to win a small set of votes at home at the expense of international reputation. I don’t agree with the policy or the strategy and I think it cheapens Canada, but it’s not necessarily corrupt or illegal, which is what I think of when I hear “dirty politics.”

        • Can we say it is a policy devoid of ethics?

        • It’s “dirty” for at least 3 reasons: 1> the Conservatives get plenty of party donations for taking an unconditional pro-Israel stance, a serious matter when the donors are contested by the Liberals; 2> the PM & Cabinet engage in systematic “legal” denials of public funding to those who criticize their stance, of which the most egregious examples are the cuts to Kairos and the Canadian Arab Foundation’s literacy classes; 3> the primary public justification for official policy is based on outright racism toward both the Palestinains as somehow undeserving of basic rights, because they are “terrorists,” a claim that is both morally and legally as “filthy” as it gets.

  2. “Peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority governing the
    West Bank broke down in 2010 when Israel refused to extend a 10-month
    freeze on settlement construction in the West Bank unless the
    Palestinians recognized Israel as a Jewish State, which they refused to

    This tragedy has gone on so long now, it’s hard to remember anymore who said what or why?
    So, why did the Palestinians refuse to recognize Israel as a Jewish state? Or was the right of return still a live issue at the time?
    While sympathetic to the Palestinians, it seems to me recognition of Israel’s right to exist should be a given if they want the same right accorded themselves. The fact that it is even still a point of contention just shows how very far apart they are.
    Having said that i agree with MP. Canada should be putting pressure on Israel [ do we even have any leverage – i doubt it?] to allow this symbolic gesture to go forward in the hope of strengthening Abbas’ hand and weakening Hamas. Wouldn’t that send some useful symbolic signal to Palestinians – moral aid to moderates, retribution to extremists like Hamas?

      • Are you saying then that MP’s remarks are wrong? Why would you say no if you had already formally said yes over two decades ago?

        • Surely you’re aware of all the ups and downs of the last 20 years?

          In fact they exhumed Arafat today to see if he was murdered.

          • Yes, i get your point. There are a lot of hard feelings, more than enough to go around. But if have already formally recognized another state it’s not as if you can just take it back again because you have found another reason to hate them. That’s not how these kind of international negotiations are arrived at surely?
            We didn’t rescind our recognition of China, not even over Tiananmen square.

          • Lots of reasons to delay it….the right of return, the illegal settlements, some firecrackers lobbed by Hamas, a completely unviable state for Palestine, another Israeli election which puts things off for quite awhile….and 20 years has gone by.

            Pretty soon there won’t be any Palestinians to worry about is the thought. You can support ‘2-state’ all along the way….until there’s only 1 left.

            Abbas is doing it the smart way. So look for Abbas to mysteriously turn up dead in a ditch some morning.

  3. Palestinians will be denied what is justly theirs as long as Israel has unconditional US support. If one is to “compel” Israel, one must therefore “compel” the US. Good luck.

    • Well Obama refused to back Israel on bombing Iran, at great risk to himself….but it paid off.

      • at great risk to himself……….rofl
        At great risk to the world. How long do you think the Iranians are going to wait to use such a weapon. In any event it will likely spark a nuclear arms race and bring us all one step closer to a nuclear confrontation……..Is that what you really want?

        • Iranians don’t have nukes, Israelis do

          Stop being an ass.

          • where in my post do I say Iranians have nukes?

          • Where in your post do you say you have brains?

          • The Iranians are building an atomic bomb…

          • You people all believe the same thing…

            You all believe your weenies come from heaven and that this gives you some sanctified right to pass your collection plate at gunpoint for the gods of communism (yourselves).

            Nobody panics when things go according to plan, even if the plan is horrifying.

            I’m not on anyone’s side.

            If the Iranians nuke Israel, the Palestinians also die in the fallout.

            If the Israelis nuke Tehran that doesn’t bother me either.

            It is a win/win situation for me, because I don’t like any of them.

            Antagonists on both sides profit from further conflict and you fake progressive “human rights” organizers would be unemployed if the conflicts ended.

            You feed off of the misery for your paychecks.

            I’d happily bury you all in the same hole so there is truly peace at last.

  4. I would like to see the Palestinians join the ICC. Then we can start prosecuting them for the thousands of human rights abuses and war crimes they are continously commiting.
    They are but useful tools for the muslim world to carry out thier proxy war of genocide against the state of Israel. They dont want peace, they never have, only a fool would think so.

    • And you sir, are just stupid.

      • As opposed to your ever so eloquent and brilliant answers.

        • It’s not my problem that you don’t understand either English or the 21st century.

    • Let’s throw a few numbers up on the board, shall we? How many Israelis have been killed by those firecrackers since Hamas was elected?. Thank you.

      Now let’s compare that to Israeli deaths from motor vehicles or by homicide. Oh look!
      In Israel you’re more likely to die walking or driving through an intersection, or by another Israeli who is mad at you, than from a rocket from Gaza.

      Now let’s have a look at the number of Palestinians killed by Israel since Hamas was elected. Quite the contrast, don’t you think?

  5. I see the Jew haters who wish for the the annihilation of all Jews and the eradication of Israel from the face of the earth are here in numbers. nice.

    • If you can’t tell the difference between nationality and religion, it’s not our problem

  6. Excellent piece Mr. Petrou. Sadly, we already know it’s not going to happen.

  7. How can anyone believe that Israel has any real interest in peace?

    Clearly they think the land belongs to them. How else do you explain the continued building of zionist enclaves in Palestine? I mean come on.

    The very fact that Israel would seek to remove Abbas is completely unsurprising to me in this regard.

    You cannot expect rationality from people who honestly believe that GOD gave them the land.

    UN recognition for Palestine is clearly the only way forward. Then at least the grounds for negotiation are clear.

  8. Were Israelis afforded any concessions when the state was created? They fought for and took what they thought was theirs and now are being asked by the Obama administration to give back, in order to attain some semblance of peace with the Muslim world. The problem is that Palestine will never be satisfied and there will never be peace in that region. A Jewish state smack dab in Arab central is under constant threat, and this author is advocating giving UN recognition to a known terrorist organization. As a side note, history will show the spoils of war go to the victors.

    • Nice revisionism there.
      Fighting for what they “thought” was theirs?
      I think your car is mine. Should I just take it then? Does that mere believe make me right? Of course it doesn’t.
      Welcome to the era of democracy. Might isn’t right anymore. Either the people who live there get their say, or you haven’t a leg to stand on in terms of legitimacy. Period.

  9. Isreal is intitled to every ounce of land NOT the palestinians, that is THEIR land given to them by GOD ALMIGHTY and soon the WORLD will see

  10. Go Back to Jordan were u belong Palestinians

  11. Man, its so upsetting that the harper government didn’t support this thing. Its disgusting.

  12. I don’t understand why Netanyahu and other Israeli officials want the Palestinians to recognize Israel as a “Jewish state”. Why not simply as a “state”. To my knowledge, some 30% of the citizens of Israel are Palestinians, therefore non-Jews. Thus logically Israel should simply be “a state of Israel”. France is not recognized as a “French state”, neither is England as an “English state”. What is this ridiculous notion that Israel should be called a “Jewish stete”?