Tuesday, 18 December 2012

When did Canada go wrong on Israel/Palestine?

A lot has been written in the subsequent weeks following Canada's strong stand and vote against Palestinian statehood at the United Nations. The government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper has stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Israel, in an almost intrinsic and essentialist stance. It is a relationship that Harper has said he would defend at any cost:

There is a history of how Canada's policy towards the Middle East conflict has shifted from neutral peacemaker to partisan cheerleader over the last decade and it started not with the Conservatives but with the Liberal Party, particularly under Paul Martin's leadership. Yet a lot of what is out there in the media is based on revisionism. I wanted to therefore post for the first time, exclusively on these pages, the official policy of the Government of Canada back in 2001, just over a decade ago, on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. It is in the form of a formal email that I received (as a freshman at Princeton!) from then Foreign Minister John Manley, clarifying Canada's position following the 'controversial' anti-racism conference in Durban that year. Obviously written by his policy team, it is still telling on the marked departure that Canada has taken from its more grounded and neutral past in the region.


Dear Taufiq Rahim:

Thank you for your e-mail of August 30, 2001, concerning the situation in the Occupied Territories, and the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance (WCAR) held in Durban, South Africa, from August 31 to September 8, 2001.  I regret the delay in replying.

The Government of Canada has an ongoing dialogue, both in bilateral and in multilateral forums, with the Government of Israel concerning the general state of human rights, including minority rights. Canada does not recognize permanent Israeli control over the territories occupied in 1967 (the Golan Heights, the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip) and opposes all unilateral actions intended to predetermine the outcome of negotiations, including the establishment of settlements in the territories and unilateral moves to annex East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights.  We consider such actions to be contrary to international law and unproductive to the peace process. Canada's policy on Palestinian refugees is based on UN Resolution 194 of December 11, 1948, which stipulates that refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours should be permitted to do so at the earliest practical date, and that compensation should be paid for those choosing not to return.  Canada believes that the Palestinian refugee issue must be resolved in a manner in keeping with the spirit of Resolution 194 through negotiations among the parties directly concerned. Any solution must respect the rights, dignity and human security of the refugees, and should be consistent with international law.  Canada also believes that the best way to ensure a durable peace is to offer the refugees real choices.

The international community must work with the parties to encourage them to live up to their agreements and continue the active search for a just peace. Both parties must work toward the complete cessation of violence and terrorism, stay committed to the Peace Process and build upon the real progress achieved at Camp David and Taba. Please be assured that we continue to monitor the situation closely, and stand ready to assist Israel and the Palestinians to bring about peace. The objectives of the WCAR were: to review all factors leading to racism; review progress in the fight against racism; increase awareness of the problem; and recommend new and improved measures to combat racism.  Canada had hoped that the WCAR would lead to a renewed global commitment and action plan against racism and racial discrimination.

Canada stayed at the Conference in an attempt to ensure that the Declaration and Program of Action contained text worthy of global support, and to speak out against the elements of text that were inappropriate and unacceptable. At the closing of the WCAR, Canada believed it was necessary to issue a strong statement of reservation on the Declaration and Program of Action. Our concerns centred on inappropriate references to the Middle East, the failure to include the multiple forms and grounds for discrimination, and the issue of apology, reparations and compensation for slavery, colonialism and the slave trade.  The Canadian delegation registered its strongest objections and dissociated itself integrally from all text in this document directly or indirectly relating to the situation in the Middle East. We have said, and will continue to say, that any language presented in any forum that does not serve to advance a negotiated peace that will bring security, dignity and respect to the people of the region is - and will be - unacceptable to Canada.  A copy of a news release issued in this regard, to which Canada's statement of reservation is attached, can be found on our Web site at http:/www.dfait-maeci.gc.ca, News Releases and Statements.

However, these reservations should not overshadow the positive elements of the final documents, or the strong role Canada played in influencing progressive strategies for indigenous peoples and in encouraging the role of civil society, especially youth, in combatting racism, in particular hate on the Internet.

The issue of Zionism was excised from the United Nations' books in 1991.  It had no place in the work of the WCAR.  Canada strongly maintained its position that any attempt to equate Zionism with racism was unacceptable.

Canada remains committed to fighting discrimination in all of its forms, and will continue to channel its international efforts through the United Nations until a global consensus is reached in which Canada could join.

Thank you again for writing.

Yours very truly,

John Manley


  1. This human rights situation is bound to culminate in the fascinating resolution depicted in Jonathan Bloomfield’s award-winning book, “Palestine,” in which actual history and future predictions are thinly veiled as fiction.