As Canada deepens relations with Israel, we also need to build stronger ties with the Arab world. Canada's interests depend on constructive relationships with both Israel and a range of Arab countries. One nation that holds much potential for Canada is Qatar.
The tiny Persian Gulf country of 1.7 million, adjacent to Saudi Arabia’s east coast, doesn't normally receive a lot of Canadian attention. But that is changing Foreign Minister John Baird opened the Canadian Embassy in Doha earlier this year. And last week, a delegation of Qatari military officials was in Canada, as the two militaries deepen ties. Qatari gas is now exported to Canada, and a novel project is under way at the Toronto Hospital for Sick Children, with Canadian medical expertise at work in Qatar. About 5,000 Canadians work in the country, in the oil fields and in universities. Newfoundland’s College of the North Atlantic has a program there and so does the University of Calgary’s nursing school.
Canadian business would do well to explore more opportunities especially in the hi-tech and service sectors. The World Cup in 2022 will lead to a building boom that could reach as much as $225 billion in new infrastructure. A light rail plan is bound to draw Canadian bids. The economic interest in Canada is even greater. The oil-rich nation is eager to diversify its wealth, and sees Canada – especially the mining sector – as a relatively safe haven in a volatile world.
On the diplomatic front, Qatar has been a fierce critic of Syria, as it was of Libya – both positions shared by the Harper government. While Russia remains critical to that situation, the two countries can be seen as reliable voices in the anti-Assad movement. Such a partnership could be beneficial in any dialogue between Israel and the Palestinians. Such conversations have no shortage of interested parties – notably the U.S,, European Union and Russia – but may benefit from smaller powers offering a backdoor channel. Canada is now Israel’s most reliable ally. Qatar enjoys the same status with Palestinian groups – a trusted friend rather than an presumptive puppet master.
Further diplomatic and economic investment in Qatar may just show Canadians how a more diverse presence in the Middle East can flourish alongside our clear and established relationship with Israel.