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Thomas Juneau is an associate professor at the University of Ottawa’s Graduate School of Public and International Affairs.

This week, the Israeli parliament approved a controversial law that constrains the Supreme Court’s ability to provide judicial oversight of government actions. According to many critics, this is only the first step in a plan by the coalition government led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to concentrate power in the executive branch. The Netanyahu government, which includes Jewish supremacists and is the most extreme in the country’s history, has also taken steps, and will likely take additional ones, toward Israel’s further annexation of the West Bank.

This raises difficult questions for Canada: should we stand by as the assault on democratic norms and Palestinian rights continues? The easy answer would be to muddle along, perhaps offering timid condemnation. The status quo, however, is increasingly unsustainable.

Like its allies, Canada’s position is to support the two-state solution, according to which Israel and an eventual Palestinian state would co-exist. Yet it is now difficult to see how this outcome can be achieved. On the Israeli side, intransigent governments have expanded settlements in the West Bank, largely closing the door on a viable Palestinian state. The road has been further blocked by the fragmentation of the Palestinian leadership, with the incompetent Palestinian Authority barely governing in the West Bank and the extremist Hamas ruling the Gaza Strip with an iron fist. In the meantime, the status quo is deeply unfair to Palestinians and destabilizing for the region.

The case can certainly be made that maintaining the fiction of the two-state solution is the least bad approach given the absence of viable alternatives. It is one thing to recognize that the two-state solution is dead; it is another to come up with a better, realistic alternative. Moreover, proponents of the status quo argue that Israel is and should remain a close friend. This is partly valid: There is no serious proposal to jettison the partnership, which indeed is beneficial for Canada. To their discredit, some supporters of the status quo far too easily launch accusations of antisemitism in response to criticism of Israeli policies. This is dishonest and stifles constructive and necessary debate. The question here is not to reject Israel’s right to exist, but to criticize some of its policies and ask whether Canada’s current approach is optimal.

The broader objectives of Canada’s foreign policy matter. It is inevitable that Canada’s focus on the Middle East will diminish. Ottawa simply has other priorities: The most important one, and one which could come under severe strain in the near future, remains the management of its relations with the United States. In addition, Canada needs to boost its presence in Asia, while the war in Ukraine shows the necessity of continuing its contributions to transatlantic security. The remaining bandwidth, for the Middle East and other areas, will shrink.

In this context, Canada should publicly state that it refuses to deal with the more extremist ministers in the Netanyahu government. It should vocally express its opposition to the proposed reforms and freeze or reduce co-operation with Israel on some issues. Ottawa should also boost its support for Palestinian civil society and increase pressure on the Palestinian Authority to reform itself and organize fresh elections. More concretely, Canada should evaluate whether its longstanding mission to train Palestinian security forces should continue since doing so entrenches the status quo by allowing Israel to delegate to the Palestinian Authority the day-to-day administration of the occupation in the West Bank. Ottawa should also suspend its policy of almost systematically voting with Israel at the United Nations General Assembly on resolutions dealing with the conflict.

Given its marginal influence when it acts alone, Canada should also engage in serious conversations with like-minded allies and partners, including through the Group of Seven, about options to change the status quo in relations with Israel and the Palestinians. Canada’s partnership with Israel has been premised on shared values, and with Israel’s government now dominated by extremist elements who are undermining the two-state solution, we can’t keep acting like it’s business as usual.

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