Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird left no doubt Saturday that Canada and Palestinian leaders remained far apart on a number of issues, but after a series of meetings in Ramallah, he assured the region that working toward progress was a common goal.
In continuing his tour of the Middle East, Baird met with President Mahmoud Abbas, Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and his ministerial counterpart to discuss security and economic development issues faced by the region.
While the Baird didn’t offer many specifics, he called the meetings “very productive,” saying there had been a good exchange of views.
“We certainly don’t agree on every issue. We have some profound differences of opinion on the way forward, but not on the need to go forward,” Baird told reporters.
Those comments were echoed by the Palestinian foreign affairs minister.
“Differences might stay but it’s good to keep talking about them among friends, and to move forward to build on agreements and the positiveness on both sides,” said Riyad Al-Maliki.
“We are looking forward to continuous Canadian support in believing in institution building and trying to help building the capacity of the Palestinian authority toward statehood.”
The Palestinians won a historic UN General Assembly vote in November that granted them status as a non-member observer state. Canada, along with the United States, was one of nine countries in the 194-country assembly that voted against the Palestinian statehood bid.
Baird was among those who expressed concerns the Palestinians would use their new status to file war crimes charges against Israel in the International Criminal Court.
In discussing development in the region on Saturday, Baird said Canada was committed to seeing its current aid projects through to completion.
He did not specify, however, if Canada would be renewing its $300 million in aid spending for Palestinians, a five-year commitment which officially expired last month.
“We did a lot of listening … about the priorities going forward for our co-operation,” Baird said. “I look forward to continuing a constructive engagement.”
Baird had said last month that he wanted to hear directly from the Palestinian Authority before making any future funding decisions.
The Palestinian aid money goes toward strengthening its justice system, private sector economic development, and health and education assistance.
Baird said he was pleased with the gains the region had made in the areas of justice and security, calling it an “effective use of development dollars.”
Baird also urged the resumption of peace talks between Palestine and Israel, something his ministerial counterpart said Palestinians were ready to commit to engage in.
“I did appreciate the priority your government has given to the whole peace negotiations, the peace discussions,” Baird told his counterpart during a news conference.
“We obviously believe that both Israel and the Palestinian Authority should, without pre-conditions, go back to the negotiating table.”
Baird added that he was pleased U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was heading to the region this weekend in a fresh bid to unlock long-stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
Kerry, who accompanied U.S. President Barack Obama to the region last month, is expected to seek confidence-building measures between the two sides.
Negotiators and observers see little chance right now for immediate progress on the big stumbling blocks toward a two-state peace agreement, but Kerry’s diplomacy is regarded as some of the Obama administration’s most sustained efforts toward ending more than six decades of conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.