Skip to main content

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, right, shakes hands with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at U.N. headquarters Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2012. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)Frank Franklin II/The Associated Press

As Canada takes a lead role in opposing the Palestine Liberation Organization's bid for enhanced recognition by the United Nations, a senior PLO official is warning of "consequences" for any action against the Palestinian Authority.

On Thursday, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is to ask the UN General Assembly to recognize Palestine in the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem, areas Israel captured in 1967, as a non-member state. The vote is expected to pass with an overwhelming majority.

Israel, the United States and Canada, along with a smattering of European states and a handful of other smaller nations, are expected to oppose the motion.

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird will travel to New York Thursday to vote against the Palestinian bid to become a "non-member observer state." An official said the minister may even address the assembly, to explain Canada's view.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his government, staunch supporters of Israel, have already pressured the Palestinian leadership to drop its bid for upgraded UN status or risk retaliatory measures.

After months of Canadian pressure appear to have been ignored, Mr. Baird warned Wednesday the relationship with Mr. Abbas will be hurt. "It's obvious that this will affect our relationship," he said in the House of Commons.

"This government makes no apologies for standing with the Jewish state," he added.

In September, Mr. Harper made a point of meeting with Mr. Abbas at the United Nations and reportedly warned him "there will be consequences" if the77-year-old Palestinian leader proceeds with his plan. Among the consequences, officials say, is the possibility that the Palestinian mission in Ottawa be closed.

"We are amazed by this behaviour," said PLO spokeswoman Hanan Ashrawi. "Canada is trying to outdo Israel," she said of the efforts to stop the motion. "Israel is perfectly capable of defending itself."

Would the Palestinian Authority consider closing the Canadian representative's office in Ramallah, if Ottawa closes the Palestinian office? Ms. Ashrawi was asked.

"We'll cross that bridge when we come to it," she replied. But if action is taken against the Palestinians, "there may be consequences," she insisted.

"If that happens, Canada will only have itself to blame."

The PLO has had UN observer status since 1974 when then-leader Yasser Arafat addressed the assembly. The motion to be voted on Thursday would enhance that status and recognize the territories that go with it. (This is why it is the PLO making the bid, not the Palestinian Authority established in 1994.)

Deliberately breaking from Canada's historically even-handed policy toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Harper government espouses the view that Israel is too often the victim of violent and political attacks, and should be able to count on Canadian support as much as it does on the U.S.

This approach puts Canada in a distinct minority from many of its strongest allies. France supports the Palestinian bid for recognition as do many countries in Europe. Italy, a traditional supporter of Israel, is expected to vote for the proposal and Britain, even with a Conservative government, will not vote against it, but will abstain.

Mr. Harper said Wednesday his government supports a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but considers the UN approach to be an inappropriate "shortcut." Real recognition will come only with peace, he said, and "that will not be accomplished in reality unless and until the Palestinian authority returns to the negotiating tableand is able to get a comprehensive peace agreement with Israel."

Until recently, Hamas, the militant Islamic organization in Gaza and the West Bank, had strongly opposed Mr. Abbas's bid. It argued that asking for Palestine to be recognized as a state only in Gaza, the West Bank and east Jerusalem, harmed the Palestinians' claim for a state in all of historic Palestine, including the 78 per cent that now is Israel.

But, in the last week, there has been a dramatic change. Hamas's political chief, Khaled Meshaal, telephoned Mr. Abbas on the weekend to say his organization now supported the effort.

"We are extremely encouraged" by this development, said Ms. Ashrawi. "Everyone is on board. There is not a single faction that is not with us," she said, a reference to resistance groups such as Islamic Jihad and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.

The bid for state recognition is coming 65 years to the day after the UN General Assembly adopted Resolution 181 that called for Palestine to be divided into a Jewish state, an Arab state and an international zone that would include Jerusalem and Bethlehem.

Hamas insists that its support for the PLO's bid does not imply that the Islamist group now recognizes Israel.

"We have stated clearly that we support it [the PLO proposal] as long as it does not relinquish any Palestinian principles, including the right of return," said Ahmed Attoun a member of parliament for Hamas's Change and Reform party.

He likened recognition of Palestine on temporary territory to the situation between China and Taiwan. "Taiwan is recognized by everyone, but not by China," he said. In Mr. Attoun's analogy, Palestine would be like China, not worrying that everyone recognizes Israel (Taiwan) and biding its time until it can claim all the territory.

The MP said that one of the benefits of even this partial UN recognition is the ability of Palestine to take cases to the International Criminal Court, and the new state should not hesitate to use this new avenue, he says.

"What is the value of the recognition of statehood if we are unable to bring to justice the killers of our children?" he asked.

Such legal actions, which might involve cases as far back as 1948, are among the reasons that Israel and its closest friends are so opposed to this UN bid.

Ms. Ashrawi, a Christian Palestinian from an old West Bank family, dismisses the concern.

"If Israel has not committed any war crimes, it has nothing to worry about," she said.

People in the Kalandia refugee camp south of Ramallah are not supporters of the PLO bid for state recognition. They say the effort is all about the West Bank and Gaza and doesn't help them in returning to their family homes in what is now Israel.

"This state they talk about … betrays the Palestinian people," said Hamsa Asaf, 25, a director at the children's development centre, financed by the Canadian government.

Mr. Asaf's ancestors hail from a village called Ella near the city of Bethlehem. He says he's never been allowed to visit his homeland; he can't get permission to even cross the green-line checkpoint just 100 metres away.

"Before the Jews, there were Arabs" on this land, he said. With this PLO bid for state recognition, "they are giving up on the rest of our land."

We welcome your comments on the issues discussed in this article. In an ongoing effort to improve the quality of discussion at, all comments will be reviewed by moderators in accordance with our guidelines. Thanks for your contributions.
Mobile users can click here to comment

Editor's note: An earlier headline on this story was incorrect and was changed.