Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister wrote an article in the National Post, a far-right daily pamphlet dressed up as a newspaper, about Canada’s new posture at the United Nations, on Dec 4. Given that the paper’s late owner, Israel Asper, publicly denounced the Canadian public media for being ‘anti-Israel’ (the evidence on the Canadian media points in the opposite direction) it is telling that Pettigrew would use the Post as the organ in which to write to the Canadian public. The article is telling in other ways as well. Here I paste the article and reply to it point-by point, as if I were writing an email to Mr. Pettigrew.
Saturday, December 4, 2004
Canada’s role in the Middle East peace process
Pierre Pettigrew, Minister of Foreign Affairs
Recent weeks have witnessed rumours that Canada has a new Middle East policy, and that our government will change the way it votes on United Nations resolutions pertaining to that region. In the interests of dispelling confusion, I am eager to share with your readers the principles underlying our continuing policy.
Pierre, they were not ‘rumours’. They were statements by Canada’s ambassador to the UN, Allan Rock. Rock said that these resolutions – which are introduced into the general assembly year after year because any resolution that gets to the Security Council that might provide some protection for the Palestinians is instantly vetoed by the United States – are ‘unhelpful’ and that Canada will now be voting against them. There are usually only a handful of countries who vote against them – The US, Micronesia, Israel itself, and a handful of other islands utterly beholden to the US. With this change, Canada will be joining the US and Israel in international isolation. Your hope, and the hope of Israel and the US, is no doubt that this will break the international isolation of Israel and the US. It could happen. But while Israel and the US (and soon Canada) will be isolated in world opinion, it is the Palestinians who will be more isolated in real terms by Canada’s abandonment of any pretense of wanting justice in Israel/Palestine.
Canada’s Middle East policy is focused above all on the goal of peace and security for all peoples of the region. It is anchored in our support for international law and our desire to play a constructive role in the search for a lasting settlement between Israelis and Palestinians.
Surely, Pierre, you understand that if Canada had ‘support for international law’ it would have to get Israel to declare its borders? Surely it would support the UN resolutions 194 and 242 so that the general assembly wouldn’t have to keep introducing resolutions that are routinely violated and ignored? Do you know how many international laws Israel is currently violating? Do you realize that collective punishment is a daily reality in Israel, that hundreds of children have been killed, that 22% of children in Gaza were malnourished due to Israel’s closures policy as of last October according to the UN Special Rapporteur for food? If Canada ‘supported international law’, it would be doing the exact opposite of what it is doing.
Canada continues to oppose all actions in contravention of international law, in particular when they might prejudge the outcome of negotiations.
Do you have any specific actions in mind? Perhaps the high profile assassinations Israel engages in whenever there is any kind of ceasfire? The major bombings in Gaza that killed dozens of people in each assassination?
The core tenets of Canada’s Middle East policy can be summarized as follows:
In these tenets, and their order, you reveal a lot about Canada’s policy.
support for Israel and its security;
You mention this first, even though Israel is a massive military power with unconditional support from the world’s only superpower and faces no threats to its security. Israeli citizens face a threat to their security, but this threat is nowhere near close to the threat to that Palestinians face, on any scale and in any time period, and the only real way to deal with this threat is through an end to the occupation.
support for Palestinian aspirations to statehood to be achieved through negotiation;
This is also very telling. Palestinian security is not a tenet of Canadian Middle East policy, evidently. Only ‘aspirations to statehood’, and there qualified that these are to be achieved through negotiation. Israel’s statehood was not achieved through negotiation, but through war and ethnic cleansing. Likewise the United States, through war and genocide. Canada’s statehood was achieved through a combination of negotiation and dispossession of the indigenous peoples. Palestinian statehood will be achieved when Palestinians have enough power – mostly political power – to force Israel and the United States to stop the project of dispossessing and destroying them. Without a change in the power relation or in the US/Israel agenda, negotiation will mean nothing. It is interesting that Canada is willing to stand unconditionally to protect something that is already assured (Israel’s security) but only willing to support Palestinian aspirations if they are achieved through negotiation. This contribution makes an unbalanced situation less balanced.
support for the peace process as currently defined in the Roadmap to a Permanent Two-State Solution to the Israeli-Palestinian Crisis, which was endorsed by the international community in 2003;
But Pierre, the only meaningful and formal institution of the ‘international community’ is the United Nations itself. This ‘international community’ that endorsed the road map was a committee put together by the United States to circumvent the UN, and the resolutions that offer a basis for a really just solution. Making the road map, which Bush and Sharon have already scrapped, a ‘core tenet’ of Canadian policy, is turning your back on international law, on the world, on reality, and of course on the Palestinians.
an abhorrence for terrorism;
It might be helpful, Pierre, if you would offer a coherent definition of terrorism. If you define it like the US army does, ‘violence directed against civilians for political goals’, then Israel’s terrorism is far greater, more systematic, and more abhorrent than anything the Palestinians could do. What is more, Israel’s terrorism is that of a state, guided by a democratic (for some) system, and supported from the outside (by the US and by Canada), whereas Palestinian terrorism is that of an utterly hopeless, desperate people who are fighting against extermination. The former could be turned off with a simple decision. The latter, being a reaction to the former, would stop shortly afterwards. If you really ‘abhorred terrorism’, you would be changing Canada’s policy in the opposite direction.
our condemnation of incitement to hate;
This is odd, considering you are writing for the National Post, which ran a picture of a Palestinian militant shortly after 9/11, explicitly linking Palestinians with ‘terrorism’, when there were hate crimes going on against Muslims in Canada. Perhaps you should consider condemning the paper you are writing for. You could also consider condemning the Toronto Star’s Rosie Dimanno and the Globe’s Margaret Wente. They do frequent incitements to hate.
our support for democracy and human rights;
Do Foreign Ministers read? If so, can I recommend a few books for you? Start with Uri Davis, ‘Apartheid Israel’. That might tell you something about what you need to do to support ‘democracy’ in Israel. On human rights, try the Israeli human rights organization, Btselem. You might find that ‘support for democracy and human rights’ would entail a different change in Canada’s policy.
and our commitment to the fairness of international efforts to promote peace, notably at the United Nations.
But not UN resolutions on the conflict, including the crucial ones, 194 and 242?
These principles have been developed and upheld by successive Canadian governments over the past six decades. In expressing these principles, governments have always had to take into account the situation in the region.
This is true, though perhaps not in the way you mean. The situation in the region today is dire. Israel’s wall has turned the West Bank into a set of prisons. Gaza has long since been a prison. Palestinians are starving inside the walls, and it is Israel’s deliberate policy to starve them. There are 400,000 colonists in the Occupied Territories, who travel on Jewish-only roads and have many rights over Palestinians that Palestinians do not have. There are hundreds of children in Israeli prisons. There are hundreds of Palestinians being killed and injured each month by the occupying army. And more, the United States is unconditionally supporting all of this. Israel is deliberately trying to make life intolerable for Palestinians, and Palestinian society and infrastructure is collapsing under the strain. The need for the ‘international community’ to intervene somehow to protect Palestinians is urgent. And Canada is moving instead towards Israel.
In this regard, a conjunction of events has created a historic window of opportunity.
This is preposterous, and it is unfortunate that you think so. I assume this is code language for the idea that Arafat’s death now makes peace possible. The truth is that, as the 81-year old Gush Shalom founder Uri Avnery argued, Arafat was the one Palestinian figure who would actually have been able to concede a tremendous amount to Israel and make peace on terms very favourable to Israel. Now that he is gone, Israelis can celebrate in the streets and Canadian pundits can pontificate about opportunities, but Palestinians will not accept colonization. Israel won’t accept anything else unless it has to. Since Canada will be helping Israel, Canada will be supporting the further violent destruction of Palestinian society. And providing a cover for it.
Prime Minister Paul Martin has stated unequivocally that the international community must be prepared to act decisively to help the Palestinians and Israelis transform this opportunity into real progress. The Prime Minister has indicated that Canada will contribute actively to a revived peace process. Canada has long been associated with international monitoring and support for democracy and good governance. All of these will be highly relevant in the Middle East in months ahead.
They could be, if Israel were to end the occupation. But no one, not even you, believes that Israel has any intention of doing so. That means that Canada won’t have anything to ‘monitor’, and any ‘monitoring’ will actually be providing a sleazy political cover for an ongoing project of ethnic cleansing.
Each time I consider a United Nations General Assembly resolution pertaining to the Middle East conflict, I ask myself how it contributes to the overall objective of a just and lasting settlement. I aim to judge each resolution on its merits.
Perhaps then, in your reply, you could provide your assessment of the several dozen UN resolutions that Israel is in violation of. Your assessment of the key resolutions, mentioned several times now, would also be appreciated.
In reviewing the long history of the resolutions adopted every year at the General Assembly, I have concluded that some, including some that Canada supported, have contributed neither to strengthening dialogue nor enhancing trust between the parties. The scrutiny of the practices and responsibilities of only one of the parties undermines the likelihood of any implementation effort.
This is the most appalling section of your article, Pierre. There are not ‘two parties’ in this conflict that can be equated. The problem is not that they need to ‘dialogue’ and build trust. That is a fundamental misunderstanding of what is happening. There is a stateless, defenseless population on the one hand and one of the world’s most powerful states, backed by the world’s most powerful state, on the other. The Palestinians are trying to survive and Israel, with the support of the US, is trying to drive them out. There are no conditions for ‘dialogue’. Israel is the occupying power. Palestinians are the occupied. The idea that ‘scrutinizing’ the occupier is somehow unbalancing can only be interpreted as an unequivocal statement in favour of ongoing occupation and ethnic cleansing.
The responsibilities of both parties should be emphasized, consistent with their Roadmap obligations, and fair criticism should be applied on both sides when appropriate.
If that were the case, you should be applying a vast preponderance of criticism to the Israeli side and the Israeli party, since it is the most powerful, the most responsible, and by far the worse violator of human rights, principles of law, and justice.
For example, references to Israeli security needs are often overlooked in General Assembly resolutions.
This is ironic, since you couldn’t find it in yourself to say a word about security for Palestinians in your article. Nor would this specious argument about Israeli security hold up in the face of any facts (see btselem.org for some such facts).
It is in light of such considerations that I recently decided that Canada must oppose two particularly unhelpful UN resolutions expressing support for the conclusions of the UN’s Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices, and its Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People.
I want to stress that these votes do not mean that Canada is somehow opposed to Palestinian rights.
They do not mean that Canada is ‘somehow’ opposed, they mean that Canada is specifically opposed to international law as it pertains to Palestinian human rights. They mean that Canada has aligned itself with the US and Israel’s policies of occupation and invasion against the ideas that motivate the United Nations and the whole idea of international law.
Rather, they reflect our growing dissatisfaction with the work of the two UN Committees and the contents of the resolutions dealing with them.
Dissatisfaction, it’s worth repeating, based on the idea that the occupier is being scrutinized too much and the occupied too little.
At the same time, I decided to support the General Assembly’s resolution on
the Risk of Nuclear Proliferation in the Middle East, which is consistent with the Canadian government’s nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation policy, and our ongoing non-proliferation efforts in the region.
Is this code language as well? Will you be making public statements against Israel’s nuclear arsenal the way Rock made public chastisements against the UN general assembly?
These decisions, taken together, reflect Canada’s policy and are a testament to our determination to make UN processes more relevant, fair and useful.
Again, Pierre, an interesting choice of words: ‘relevant’ and ‘useful’. You have accomplished both. It was George Bush, after all, who, last year, warned that if the UN didn’t ratify the Iraq invasion and occupation it would be ‘irrelevant’. This decision helps make the UN more ‘relevant’ in Bush’s sense: it makes the UN more subservient to US power. As for ‘useful’, you have made the UN more ‘useful’ to those who want to pursue the goals of ethnic cleansing and colonization.
We shall continue to align our votes with evolving conditions on the ground and our hopes for the region, and we hope others will do likewise.
And there, in the ‘we hope others will do likewise’, lies the key to the whole maneuver: to try to break the international consensus on justice for Palestinians.
While a peaceful solution to the Middle East conflict can only come from a negotiated agreement between the parties, the international community can play a greater, more constructive role.
This is again true, though again not in the sense you mean.
Prime Minister Martin’s commitment to assist the parties on the ground is real, and will require us to consider a broad range of initiatives aimed at promoting peace and stability. We have offered to help with the coming Palestinian elections. We also want to support the Palestinian people in their efforts at building the capacities that are critical to a stable government. The seriousness of our commitment will be actively reflected in the extent of our engagement.
We look forward to working with other nations of the world to enhance the prospects for a true and lasting peace in the Middle East.
If you want to enhance those prospects, you shall have to not only reverse the course you are on, but go considerably farther in the other direction. You would have to find a way to say the word ‘occupation’ in your public statements. You would have to actually ‘support international law’. You would have to do some reading beyond the National Post – perhaps some literature by Israeli scholars and journalists would help, if you’re not ready to read Palestinians (your penchant for ‘both parties’, though, should mean you ought to be willing to do that). I could give you plenty of material. It might make you less ‘useful’ and ‘relevant’ in your chosen career path, though. On the other hand, it would be worth it if it could make you understand that everyone loses from this policy. Palestinians, because they lose another potentially neutral party and gain another powerful adversary. Israelis, because the path of ethnic cleansing they are on is ultimately suicidal. And Canadians, too, because even if you don’t, others understand that Canada has decided to fan the flames of destruction by supporting the vastly more powerful side at a crucial time.