“In standing up for the truth, your voice, Stephen, has been an indispensable one.” —Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli Prime Minister
Stephen Harper loves Israel. That’s the easiest thing to understand about the Prime Minister’s first adventure in the Middle East. Everything else is complicated. Everyone else is less loved.
Harper received a hero’s welcome when he landed in Jerusalem. He arrived with an entourage of more than 200 people, and earned words of endearment from Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu, a gracious friend who lauded Harper’s devotion to the Israeli cause. “This world is often cynical and hypocritical, and you have shown great moral leadership. In standing up for the truth, your voice, Stephen, has been an indispensable one.” Harper’s arrival landed above the fold on the Jerusalem Post. That’s the easy part.
Now, the hard part. This morning, the PM travelled to Ramallah for a meeting with Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas. The PM pledged $66 million in aid to institution-building projects in Palestinian territories. The people who will benefit from the money appreciate the gesture. And, at the same time, some Palestinians don’t even mind the affection Harper has for Israelis.
“We are not questioning Canada’s relations with Israel. It’s a sovereign decision of Canada to take any position it likes,” Abdullah Abdullah, the deputy commissioner for international relations in Abbas’s Fatah movement, told the Toronto Star. “But we question really Canada’s policies towards the Palestinians. We see that this is unfair and does not fit Canada’s image or Canada’s international standing.”
Abdullah’s boss, Nabeel Shaath, wrote in a Globe and Mail op-ed that millions in aid for institution-building is only effective to a point. “We do need institutions, and we are grateful for the support we get, but these projects cannot be sustainable unless the Israeli occupation is brought to an end,” he wrote. “Mr. Harper and his colleagues are always welcome to our country, but I wish I could be more optimistic about this visit.”
Shaath repeated the Palestinian claim that Harper’s team supports Israeli occupation of Palestinian land. Last June, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird visited East Jerusalem, a territory controlled by Israel—occupied, to anyone who’s opposed to the presence—since 1967. Baird’s sojourn at least implied support for Israel’s claim. And Harper’s friendship with Netanyahu, a man who’s not pulling any settlements out of Palestinian lands, seems to solidify support for Israel’s current policy.
Except that the official Canadian position, criticized last week by former Israeli ambassador Alan Baker, comes nowhere near support for Israeli occupation—yes, an official document uses that word—of Palestinian lands. “Canada does not recognize permanent Israeli control over territories occupied in 1967,” reads the policy statement. “Israeli settlements in the occupied territories are a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention. The settlements also constitute a serious obstacle to achieving a comprehensive, just and lasting peace.”
Does that statement, or pledged aid, or kind words about a two-state solution mean anything to Palestinians, or other nearby Arab nations? Shimon Fogel, the CEO of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, thinks so. “[Conservatives] have a degree of comfort and confidence that support expressed for legitimate Palestinian aspirations and challenges facing Jordan don’t come at the expense of the support expressed for Israel,” he told The Globe. Abdullah and Shaath are, of course, skeptical. Michael Bell, a former Canadian ambassador to Israel and Jordan, asks a pertinent question: “Are we going to change the policy document? Is Israel going to ask for that?”
Harper certainly drew a line last month, when he spoke at a tribute dinner held in his honour by the Jewish community. That evening, Israel was a “light of freedom and democracy.” Everything surrounding it was a “region of darkness.”
Harper loves Israel. Everything else is complicated.
ABOVE THE FOLD
Globe: Stephen Harper arrived to a gracious welcome in Israel.
Post: Harper’s friendship with Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu takes the world stage.
Star: Palestinians are wary of Harper’s perceived favouritism of Israelis over Palestinians.
Citizen: The bodies of two Canadian accountants killed in an Afghan terrorist attack arrived in Canada.
CBC: Harper pledged $66 million in aid to Palestinians on Monday morning.
CTV: Harper met with Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas.
NNW: A law prof called a parliamentary confidentiality agreement “unenforceable.”
Near: A Canadian soldier who worked just outside of Ottawa died of suicide, the eighth case in two months.
Far: Twenty-eight people were injured after two explosions hit anti-government protests in Bangkok.