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Prime Minister Stephen Harper, left, and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas adjust their ear pieces during a joint news conference in the West Bank city of Ramallah on January 20, 2014. (DARREN WHITESIDE/REUTERS)
Prime Minister Stephen Harper, left, and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas adjust their ear pieces during a joint news conference in the West Bank city of Ramallah on January 20, 2014. (DARREN WHITESIDE/REUTERS)

Nabeel Shaath

How Stephen Harper has weakened Canada’s status in Palestine Add to ...

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has visited Palestine. He has met with President Mahmoud Abbas, and he would have beeb received with the grace and generosity of spirit that is characteristic of Abu Mazen and his people. Mr. Harper will be able to say that he visited Mr. Abbas. But other than this official meeting, nobody else is asking to meet Mr. Harper. This would not have been the case with a Canadian leader only a few years ago, and it is a shame that it has become the case today.

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Unlike previous governments, the current Canadian government has done everything possible in order to undermine Palestine’s international status and stand in the way of our right to self-determination, acting in disrespect for international law. The past few years have witnessed a shocking voting record in the UN, which has left Canada almost alone in many instances. Canada has declined to vote even on basic, near-universally accepted resolutions, such as the illegality of Israeli settlements or the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination. Meanwhile, actions such as Foreign Minister John Baird’s meeting with Tzipi Livni in occupied East Jerusalem in June, 2013, and Canada’s lobby against Palestine’s UN bid have taken Canada outside of international consensus, making Canada part of the problem rather than part of the solution.

Palestine’s position is in complete accordance with international law: Two sovereign and democratic states on the 1967 border, with Jerusalem as an open city and capital of two independent states whereby occupied East Jerusalem will be the capital of the State of Palestine, and West Jerusalem will be the capital of Israel, and a just solution to the refugee issue in line with UNGA resolution 194. Meanwhile, Israel continues its policies of settlement construction, home demolition, forced displacement of population, arrests, seizure of natural resources and severe restrictions on freedom of movement and worship, especially in Jerusalem. These are only some of Israel’s deeply oppressive actions against Palestine and its people that the Canadian government insists on rewarding with its blind support.

Mr. Harper has said that he will continue to support Israel “whatever the cost”. This statement is illogical and dangerous when we are talking about a country that violates the sovereignty of three other nations and the human rights of millions, and refuses to abide by international law. Thousands of Canadian citizens are of Palestinian, Syrian or Lebanese origin. They cannot comprehend how their government, regardless of its strong alliance with Israel, could go as far as to be against the right to self-determination.

Harper’s support for Israeli colonization of Palestine appears to be based on religious ground. But such a position is also illogical: The Christians of the Holy Land are an integral part of the Palestinian people. Through various initiatives such as the Kairos Document, Palestine’s Christians have made it clear that, in order to fulfill even the most basic of their rights, the Israeli occupation must be brought to an end. More than this, they consider the Israeli occupation, with all its crimes perpetrated against fellow human beings, to be a sin against God.

During my last visit to Canada I saw that the Canadian public, as well as many officials, are tired of this biased and uncritical stance towards Israel’s occupation. They remember the days when Canadian policy towards our region was based on international law and human rights; the days when Canada was a strong supporter of a meaningful peace process; the days when Canada chaired the committee on Palestinian refugees, supported Palestinian infrastructure and committed itself to clearing the West Bank of Israeli mines. Canada’s stand vis-à-vis the Arab world, as well as its own reputation within the UN system, has been damaged by decisions not based on Canada’s own national interests, self image, and its respect for international law.

Some statements suggest that Canada is playing a “balanced” role due to its material support for institution-building projects in Palestine. But let me be clear: Yes, we do need institutions, and we are grateful for the support we get, but these projects cannot be sustainable unless the Israeli occupation is brought to an end. Only when Palestine has control over its border crossings and an airport of its own; when we are free to determine our own imports and exports; when we have access to our own natural resources; and, most importantly, when we are free to exercise our rights to exist, to live and to love, will institutions be able to serve their real purpose. The function of our institutions is not just to pay salaries but to take the Palestinian people from occupation to independence.

Mr. Harper and his colleagues are always welcome to our country, but I wish I could be more optimistic about this visit. I genuinely hope I am proven wrong. I pray that during Mr. Harper’s visit to the Nativity Church, the star of hope that shone on Bethlehem 2000 years ago will enlighten his heart and mind, prompting him to change his government’s policy from blind support for colonization to principled support for human rights. He would be playing then a constructive role as a friend of both: the Palestinians and Israelis, helping them to achieve peace, security and justice.

Dr. Nabeel Shaath is Fatah foreign relations commissioner, member of the PLO Political Committee and former foreign minister.

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