This article initially appeared in the Toronto Star (December 2, 2012). The original article can be found by clicking on the title below.
“This resolution will not advance the cause of peace or spur a return to negotiations. On the contrary, this unilateral step will harden positions and raise unrealistic expectations while doing nothing to improve the lives of the Palestinian people.”
It wasn’t always this way. Canada traditionally played a much more even-handed role in the conflict, realizing the need to support both Israel’s security and Palestinian aspirations for statehood. But over the last decade Canadian policy on the Middle East conflict has become increasingly one-sided in its affinity for Israel. At the UN, Baird asserted that the resolution did not serve the interests of peace. Yet rather than promoting peace, the lonely Canadian UN vote only empowered extremists on both sides and could contribute to increased violence.
The push for recognition at the world body was the culmination of an effort that was launched roughly two years ago by the Palestinians, led by President Mahmoud Abbas. In his speech in New York, Abbas reiterated that this initiative was intended not to “delegitimize” Israel but instead to “affirm the legitimacy” of Palestine. The campaign is one of only a few non-violent forms of activism left in the Palestinian arsenal to achieve a two-state solution.
After more than 64 years of dispossession and 45 years of occupation, Abbas and the Palestinian leadership viewed the UN vote as a light at the end of a very dark tunnel. That message resonated not just with countries that Prime Minister Stephen Harper could dismiss but also with democratic nations such as Norway, Spain, France, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand and Italy — not really a motley crew of rogue states.
It would be easy to ignore the significance of the Canadian vote. After all, it’s hardly news that under Harper Canadian policy has lacked balance. But today the Holy Land finds itself at a seminal inflection point, where there is a greater tolerance for intransigence on both sides. Coming out of the crisis in Gaza, where residents suffered massive casualties and destruction, Abbas was viewed as a weak, irrelevant figure. His invisibility, combined with changes in the wider region, has meant that the profile of Hamas has been raised. During the recent conflict, leading political officials from the Arab world met with senior Hamas figures in Gaza for the first time in five years.
Beyond this, among the Palestinian community, commitment to a two-state solution has been waning. It is no longer viewed as tenable given the growing encroachment of settlements in the West Bank. Leading activists have started to reintroduce the democratic solution that promotes one state in which there is universal suffrage, as in the South Africa model. For them, Abbas’s UN initiative was dead on arrival, regardless of whether it received support.
Against this backdrop, the Canadian government’s message is that this last-gasp support for a two-state solution and a peaceful Palestinian movement toward that end is “utterly regrettable.” Not only that, the government has also intimated it will review its aid to the Palestinian Authority.
There should be no illusions about what this means. Palestinians — after many decades of waiting — are looking for realistic traction toward self-determination. If the peaceful avenues leading to that end are closed, it will leave only the extremist approach. Hamas will point out that Gaza doesn’t have any Israeli settlements, that their kidnapping of Israeli Gilad Shalit led to the release of Palestinian prisoners, and that Arab states are recognizing their leadership. And then they will ask: What has President Abbas done for you lately?
Beyond the question of whether Canada is on the wrong side of history, which hardly seems debatable, it now appears to be empowering violence and extremism. How can you support Palestinian statehood and a two-state solution and inexplicably oppose that very reality, claiming it is not conducive to peace? That cognitive dissonance should stimulate a deep examination of Canadian policy — there is a lot more at stake here than just a UN vote.