A Globe editorial on Tuesday said Canada’s influence is in the Middle East is approximately nil.
Thinking about that led me to a slightly different conclusion. Rather, Stephen Harper has the opportunity to become a new cliché about working for peace.
Only Ariel Sharon could withdraw from Gaza and withdraw settlers and settlements from the West Bank. Only Richard Nixon could go to China.
And only Stephen Harper can press for a lasting peace in the Middle East with a two state solution and clear and defendable borders for Israel.
When Mr. Sharon was a general and a minister in the Israeli government he supported settling the West Bank and occupying Gaza. As prime minister after having been a vigorous and aggressive defender of an independent Jewish state for his entire life, he had the legitimacy and strength to show a reasoned and pacific side by withdrawing from Gaza and beginning to close some of the settlements on the West Bank. His commitment to a strong and defensible Israel as a Jewish State was never in doubt.
Throughout the period of ping-pong diplomacy in the early ‘70s leading up to the American opening to China, everyone on both sides saw Richard Nixon as a fierce anti-communist. When Mr. Nixon sent Henry Kissinger to Beijing to begin preparing for his visit to China and the possibility of opening relations with the Middle Kingdom, no one in the People’s Republic doubted Nixon’s anti-communist commitment.
No one doubts Mr. Harper’s unequivocal commitment to Israel, consistent with Canadian foreign policy for 65 years. Moreover, no one doubts the Prime Minister’s unhelpful, unflinching and unnuanced commitment to the Netanyahu government, which is part of the Prime Minister’s and the Conservative Party’s brand.
Minister Baird’s commitment to both is clear. And, alas, no one doubts recently appointed Ambassador Vivian Bercovici’s commitment to both.
With that slightly misguided capital in the bank, Mr. Harper could actually act to help U.S. State Secretary John Kerry’s rather lonely attempt to press both Mr. Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas and other leaders in the region for a lasting peace.
Only Mr. Harper could show understanding and sympathy with a two state solution and not be seen to be soft on the Palestinians. Only Mr. Harper could help Barack Obama bring all the players in the region to the table without being accused of being sympathetic to the radicals and terrorists. And only Mr. Harper could help Mr. Obama legitimize a separate Palestinian state without having anyone doubt his commitment to a lasting peace with a strong and defensible borders for the Jewish state, next door to an independent Palestinian one.
If Mr. Harper is such a great strategist then this may have been the ultimate strategy all along.
Perhaps Mr. Harper began his shilling for Mr. Netanyahu with the intention of building credibility as a supporter of and an indefatigable defender of the state of Israel so that he could play a principled and crucial role in bringing Mr. Netanyahu to the negotiating table with the Palestinians.
Perhaps John Baird knew all along that to insist on the Palestinians recognizing the Jewish state, they would have to be given something. And in giving development assistance and governance support and democratic development aid to the Palestinians he did not want Canada’s commitment to a Jewish state of Israel with defensible borders to be questioned.
And perhaps Mr. Baird and Mr. Harper chose Ms. Bercovici as Ambassador to Israel and to the Netanyahu government so that when she acts in a balanced and reasoned way in support of a two state solution, no one will question her commitment to the Jewish state in so doing.
Mr. Kerry has an unenviable battle to get the Palestinians to recognize the legitimacy of Israel and to get the Israelis, and in particular Mr. Netanyahu, to recognize a Palestinian state on the West Bank.
Mr. Kerry needs all the help he can get. Imagine Mr. Harper or Mr. Baird in a shuttle diplomacy role between Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Abbas on behalf of the United States. Being the lapdog to the Americans in the pursuit of peace in the Middle East is a noble endeavour. Canadians would love them for it.
Support could come from other Arab states in the region. It could come from the EU and some of its member states, or Russia or even China. But in the end, no one wants another non-regional power to start to have undue influence in an already fragile region (as Vladimir Putin’s Iranian initiative has begun).
Israel inhabits a rather hostile neighbourhood. It is not just Lebanon, Syria, Iran and Egypt that make life difficult. Hamas, Hezbollah and al-Qaeda all make the existential future of the Jewish state precarious.
However, a middle power like Canada, an honest broker like Canada, and any other cliché you would like to paint us with, under the leadership of Stephen Harper can now play a key role in promoting peace in the Middle East. No one would doubt Mr. Harper’s, Mr. Baird’s or Ms. Bercovici’s commitment to a Jewish state of Israel.
What an opportunity. Only Harper could ….. Nah. Never going to happen.
Mel Cappe is a former Clerk of the Privy Council and High Commissioner to Great Britain and Northern Ireland.